Challenges and Opportunities
Despite remarkable economic and social progress in the Asia-Pacific, critical social protection coverage gaps persist:
- About half of the region’s population are not even covered by one social protection scheme.
- Only a handful of countries have comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage.
- Most poverty-targeted schemes fail to reach the poorest families.
- Maternity, unemployment, sickness and disability benefits, mostly covered by contributory schemes, remain the preserve of workers with a formal job.
- While the majority of older persons receive a pension, significant gaps remain and benefits are often insufficient to cover basic needs.
- The lack of access to affordable health care is leaving individuals without treatment and households vulnerable to falling back into poverty.
- Effective social protection requires a significant but affordable increase of public spending.
Underinvestment in social protection is a key reason for these gaps, while the high prevalence of informal employment, representing almost 70% of all workers, is a main challenge to join a contributory social protection scheme. Despite the increase in non-contributory benefits over recent years, most people are still excluded because of policies to only target the poorest. The majority of these schemes are also often ineffective because of low benefit levels and administrative and coordination issues.
Social protection plays an important role in building resilience, shielding people’s incomes and well-being as well as retaining development gains. As such, it is a key enabler to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its importance has been highlighted time and again in response to covariate crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Social protection will also be key to adapt to future challenges such as population ageing, migration, urbanization, technological progress, disasters and climate change.
As the region picks up pace to achieve the 2030 Agenda, universal social protection will be crucial in fostering a more inclusive, resilient and prosperous Asia-Pacific.
In October 2020, ESCAP member States acknowledged the centrality of social protection to achieving inclusive and sustainable development and endorsed the Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific. The action plan serves as guiding document for ESCAP member States to agree on a regional shared vision, strategy and platform on social protection.
Universal social protection and the Social Protection Floor (SPF) Initiative provide the guiding frameworks for ESCAP’s work in the area of social protection. Through the Regional Action Plan, ESCAP aims to support national and regional efforts by enhancing the capacity of member States to build and strengthen inclusive social protection systems.
ESCAP advocates for universal social protection along the Social Protection Floor and works to strengthen the capacity of policymakers in the Asia-Pacific region to design, implement and finance inclusive social protection as a tool for achieving the 2030 Agenda. It does so by supporting national and regional efforts on social protection by functioning as a knowledge platform, including through its Social Protection Toolbox and Social Protection Simulation Tool.
Social Protection Toolbox
The Social Protection Toolbox is a platform to support policymakers in building inclusive social protection systems through the sharing of good practices, resources and primers on social protection. The toolbox helps policymakers to assess coverage gaps in health care and income security along the life course in their countries and generates a set of good practices that illustrate actions other countries are taking to fill similar gaps. The tool contains additional capacity and knowledge building tools and resources.
Social Protection Simulation Tool
ESCAP’s Social Protection Simulation Tool is an interactive platform for users to explore the benefits of providing more comprehensive and inclusive social protection systems. Users can estimate the impact of expanding a particular social protection scheme on poverty, inequality and purchasing power across different household types. It also computes the expected cost of such simulated scheme(s) and provides different illustrative options to expand fiscal space for social protection. A further introduction to the tool is available on video.
Policy Primers on Inclusive Social Protection
ESCAP has, in collaboration with Development Pathways, developed a series of policy primers to support policymakers and practitioners in Asia and the Pacific in their efforts to strengthen social protection. The primers cover the basic principles of why social protection is needed, the critical steps in designing a social protection scheme, the effective implementation of tax-financed social protection, options for financing social protection, as well as an introduction to thematic areas such as gender and disability.
Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific
Highlighting the centrality of social protection to achieve the 2030 Agenda, the Social Outlook flagship publications provide an analysis of the status of social protection as well the priority actions needed to strengthen universal social protection in the region. The most recent report, The Protection We Want: Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific, was launched in November 2020 on the sidelines of the fifth Regional Conversation Series on Building Back Better. To assist policymakers in their efforts to broaden social protection coverage, the report provides evidence that investing in basic social protection would have an immediate impact on poverty, inequality and purchasing power, while being within financial reach for most countries. The Social Outlook publications can be found at https://www.unescap.org/publication-series/social-outlook-asia-and-pacific .