The COVID-19 crisis and its widespread impacts demonstrate the need to reform current social security systems in Asia, which, to a large extent, are based on models that high-income countries had been using in the 18 centuries. It is essential that countries build modern, comprehensive and universal systems that can effectively reduce poverty and inequality, and are more effective in tackling large-scale shocks. These reforms must also address gender disparities in wages and benefits, access to economic opportunities, and unpaid care work. The current crisis presents an opportunity to build more effective social security schemes that can be scaled back once the crisis finishes. If a further crisis hits, they could be expanded once more. In contrast to the conventional belief that social security for all members of society is a cost to governments, it needs to be recognised as an important component of a long-term, sustainable development strategy.
The main points in this Position Note on the social protection response to COVID-19 are:
- Social protection systems in Asia have large gaps in coverage that need addressing urgently
- Current national responses tend to be too small to contain the massive socio-economic impact; a few are now expanding and begin to reflect a re-think of social protection systems
- The key goal in the policy response is to promote sustainability by reaching the most vulnerable; rapid data diagnostics are key to keep targeting on track and fast evolving to catch those falling back into poverty
- Emerging social protection systems needs to blend innovative approaches with existing ones, so not starting from nothing and not throwing out what has worked well before
- UNDP has an important role to play in helping governments of the region shape the social protection response, bringing experience from elsewhere, new data and tools, and working with partners both in the UN and outside to leverage the policy, programme and resourcing needed