Asia-pacific region lacks social protection systems


Even as Covid-19 pandemic calls for social distancing and social protection systems, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have weak social protect systems riddled with gaps, according to a latest report of ESCAP and ILO.

They said that about half of the region’s population has no social protection coverage. “Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the time was right for a major strengthening of social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific. Our region’s phenomenal economic growth has been reshaping the world. But more than half of the population has no social protection coverage. SWhere social protection does exist, its coverage is all too often riddled with gaps,” said ESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana and Assistant Director General and Regional Director ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific Chihoko Asada-Miyakawa.

Pandemic aggravating underlying ills

The Asia – Pacific region’s extensive gains in economic growth in recent years have not led to proportionate gains in the well being of the people, the report said. Several countries in the region face high levels of inequality. The report noted that poverty rates were stubbornly high in some countries and the pandemic risks reversing progress towards poverty reduction by almost a decade. The report highlights that social protection systems are necessary to shield people’s incomes and well-being as well as retain social development gains.

Overlapping global trends

Ageing, urbanization, migration, disasters, climate change and technological progress are the main challenges facing the region. The report said that ageing populations were changing family structures. It noted that rapid industrialization and increased migratory flows were reshaping labour markets and creating different vulnerabilities. Social protection will be key to adapting to these disruptions, it said.

Critical gaps in social protection

The report states that about half of population in the region have no social protection coverage. A handful of countries only have comprehensive social protection systems with relatively broad coverage, the report said and added that most of the poverty targeted schemes fail to reach the poorest families. Though majority of older persons get a pension, the report points out significant gaps in this. The lack of access to affordable health care is also leaving individuals without treatment and households vulnerable to falling back into poverty, the ECAP and ILO report said..

Why gaps in social protection exist?

The report points out that one of the reasons is related to underinvestment. Excluding health, several countries in the Asia-Pacific region spend less than two per cent of GDP on social protection. This is in stark contrast to the global average of 11 per cent. Another reason is the high prevalence of informal employment in the region, which represents close to 70 per cent of all workers. These workers and their employers are outside the legal framework of contributory schemes. There is also a lower representation among women


  • Embed social protection in national development agendas and allocate more resources.
  • Build universal social protection systems.
  • Provide adequate social protection to women throughout their lives.
  • Expand social protection to informal workers.
  • Social protection schemes provide a strong foundation for leaving no one behind, improve efficiency and effectiveness by using emerging technologies.
  • Low coverage countries should prioritize universal schemes covering health care, maternity, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
  • Low to medium coverage countries should aim to close the coverage gaps left by existing schemes and ensure adequate benefit levels.
  • Medium to high coverage countries should identify and close remaining coverage gaps and ensure benefit levels are adequate.



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