Social Security in Western Asia: Accessibility and Sustainability
Recent global food, fuel and financial crises have brought social protection coverage back to the centre of the international development debate. Previous global and regional crises have shown that the existence of extensive social assistance and social security systems, together with increased social expenditure, is critical to alleviate the negative social impact of crises on vulnerable groups. This debate on the role of social protection has become even more relevant in the wake of ongoing socio-political developments in the Arab world. Ongoing popular demand for socio-political reform, social justice and a rights-based approach to development have also brought social protection to the centre of the regional development agenda.
Social protection interventions to protect vulnerable groups against livelihood risks can be divided into two main categories: i) social assistance to provide immediate relief from poverty and deprivation, such as the provision of essential social services, food aid and family allowances and ii) social insurance schemes to cushion risks associated with unemployment, sickness, disability and old age. In this context, social insurance can be equated with the provision of social security targeting the population dependent on either formal or informal employment.
The central role of the social protection in times of crisis has generated a good deal of debate on the reforms of social protection systems that are required in many ESCWA countries to address livelihood risks arising from socio-economic and socio-political crises. Some of the key questions include (i) the extension of social assistance to vulnerable population groups; (ii) the extension of social security coverage into critical areas, such as unemployment insurance and pensions; and (iii) the need to adopt more proactive initiatives to counteract or anticipate the impact of crises.
In this context, the Social Development Division (SDD) will be hosting on 8-9 September 2011 an Expert Group Meeting entitled “Social Security in Western Asia: Accessibility and Sustainability”, which will bring together a number of national, regional and international experts, practitioners, decision-makers, UN agency representatives as well as representatives from key regional organizations.
The meeting aims at examining different social protection approaches in the region, promoting a common understanding on issues related to the accessibility and sustainability of the social security systems in preparation for the Third World Social Security Forum due to be held in 2013, and ultimately identifying policy options to enhance the role of social security systems in ESCWA countries. It will focus on two thematic pillars, namely: (1) The financial sustainability of the social protection systems in ESCWA countries; and (2) Levels of provision of social security.