Extending social security coverage to all workers in Africa

03/10/2021 12:29 PM

Africa is the region with the lowest social security coverage rates. Efforts are underway to extend coverage to all workers covered neither by contributory nor by non-contributory social protection. Innovations by social security institutions prove to be instrumental in reaching out to these workers and to meet their priorities and needs.

Africa bears witness to important variations in levels of national economic development. In many countries, there are important gaps in the number of people covered under national social security programmes, as well as in the number of contingencies covered and the adequacy of cash benefits and health care. As in other regions, the legal coverage afforded by the programmes across Africa extends usually only to formal workers. Again, as in other regions, social assistance programmes with a poverty alleviation focus may complement contributory programmes. In Africa, these exist alongside other forms of social protection in the form of humanitarian aid.

In spite of these imposing challenges, a new study by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) – Extending and maintaining social security coverage – reports that, with the support of international organizations, nearly all countries in Africa have adopted comprehensive national social security development plans and strategies, including the introduction or extension of a basic social security package incorporating essential health care, child support for school-age children and a minimum pension.

Of course, the challenges of extending access to social security coverage in Africa stem not only from labour market issues. Africa has the highest proportion of its population living in poverty and multidimensional deprivation. However, only a small fraction receive any form of social protection. We also know that the changing socioeconomic context, demographic transitions and climate change are producing new groups of vulnerable people. In this context, attitudes to social protection have to evolve, in particular for vulnerable populations. These and other broader issues will be discussed at the Virtual Social Security Forum for Africa, to be held virtually, 5–7 October 2021. They are addressed in detail by the ISSA in a forthcoming report, Priorities for social security: Africa, to be launched at the event.

African nations are committed to realising sustainable and equitable universal social security coverage by 2030, in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, and as part of the development agenda for Africa 2063. As the ISSA study addresses in greater detail, social security organizations in Africa are sensitive to the challenges facing them in realizing their core mission. In particular, the study reports important efforts to reach out to informal sector workers. Innovative approaches to the design and financial of programmes are emerging to ensure coverage extension. Part of this requires forging strategic partnerships and simplifying administrative procedures. In practical terms, modern ICT helps to identify and register beneficiaries, collect contributions and modernize service delivery.

As such, coverage solutions can be found to respond to the evolving and varied needs of all workers, as well as those of the general population of African states.