Where do we stand?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious gaps in social protection coverage. It became evident how many workers were not sufficiently covered by social protection in many parts of the world. Even in Europe, which generally has relatively well-developed social protection systems, many workers fell through the cracks.

At the same time, social protection mechanisms have played a very important role in countries’ policy responses to the crisis through two channels. First, countries mobilized their existing social protection systems to provide access to health care and income security. This included access to testing and treatment through the health systempaid sick leave and sickness benefits to allow workers to stay at home during periods of sickness and quarantine, partial unemployment benefits or short-time work benefits to keep workers in employment even during lockdowns, unemployment benefits to those who had lost their jobs, and social assistance to those who were at risk of falling into poverty. Those measures were essential to protect public health, jobs and incomes by supporting both workers and enterprises. Although of utter importance, automatic responses were not sufficient, especially in countries with weak social protection systems and high levels of informality. For this reason, countries embarked on a second channel of emergency responses to close coverage and adequacy gaps and provide urgently needed support to workers, including workers in the informal economy. Between March 2020 and September 2021, 209 countries adopted more than 1700 implemented or announced emergency measures to provide support for those who were not adequately protected. Depending on preexisting structures, countries mobilized additional resources through tax-financed or social insurance schemes, expanding or improving benefits, introducing new benefits and improving registration and delivery structures. Nevertheless, a lot of the measures were on-off or temporary, and many have already ended.”