UN labour agency slates social security shortfall

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The UN labour agency said Tuesday that just one fifth of those of working age have access to full social security cover even though the public safety net plays a crucial role in reducing the impact of economic crises.

The International Labour Organisation's first World Social Security Report found that no country in the world is without some form of social security.

However, "the majority of the world population still has no access to comprehensive social security," it said, with cover often limited to a few areas such as healthcare, pensions, social assistance and unemployment benefit.

"Taking into account those who are not economically active, it is estimated that only about 20 percent of the world's working-age population (and their families) have effective access to comprehensive social protection."

The ILO said social security acted as an economic stabiliser by replacing lost incomes and propping up demand.

"The current crisis has highlighted the importance of having a minimum set of social security benefits for all in place," ILO Director-General Juan Somavia said.

Just over 17 percent of global economic output is allocated to social security but the expenditure is concentrated on high income countries.

Worldwide, 40 percent of those of working age are legally entitled to old age pensions. That proportion doubles in Europe and North America.

Some 75 percent of over 65-year-olds in rich nations are currently receiving some kind of pension.

But pension coverage drops to an average 20 percent in poor countries and is far lower in sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

Unemployment support exists in only 42 percent of the 184 countries surveyed while less than one third of the global working age population has cover for accidents in the workplace and employment related illness.

Nearly one third have no access to any health services or facilities at all.

The ILO argued that comprehensive, well designed social security alleviates poverty, prevents long-term unemployment and helps shorten recovery from recession.

"It works as an irreplaceable economic, social and political stabilizer in such hard times -- both for individual lives and the life of society as a whole."

© 2010 AFP

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