The World Social Security Forum (WSSF), taking place in Doha from November 10 to 15, will be the largest international meeting of social security policy-makers and senior managers representing government ministries, national social security administrations and international organisations from more than 120 countries.
“The Forum agenda will cover a range of issues with the central focus on how can social security systems better protect and support the livelihoods and dignity of people in all regions,” said Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, secretary general of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), which is organising the event.
The ISSA, the principal international structure for social security institutions, has been invited to Doha by Qatar’s General Retirement and Social Insurance Authority, a member of the ISSA.
The Forum will be the first to be held in the Gulf region, highlighting the dynamic evolution of social security systems in the Gulf countries.
“The ISSA defines social security as any programme of social protection established by legislation that provides individuals with a degree of income security when faced with the contingencies of old age, survivorship, incapacity, work injury, disability or unemployment,” Konkolewsky explained.
Social security can also include support for maternity and for families with children, as well as medical care. In addition to providing income security, modern social security systems also invest in prevention, and they support health, facilitate employment and help empower people. “In practice, the form and scope of social security systems vary widely, depending on a country’s development, culture and history. Regardless of the context, the ISSA considers social security to be a fundamental human right for all people and workers, and one of the most significant worldwide social achievements of the last century. Social security is about social justice,” he said.
Social security systems represent a major component of modern economies: for example, public social spending is on average 22% of GDP in OECD countries, and this is rising. “But social security should not simply be considered as expenditure, on the contrary: evidence confirms that spending on social protection is an investment in the human capital and development of a country, and a major factor of social stability and economic development,” Konkolewsky clarified. The ISSA official cautioned that social security systems are facing profound challenges, related primarily to global economic and social trends.
For example, the labour market, which is closely linked to social security systems, is changing. In some regions, there has actually been an increase in the proportion of the population working in the informal sector in recent years. Youth unemployment remains an issue for many countries in the wake of the economic and financial crisis, and may be further exacerbated in the future.
Another example is related to new healthcare challenges. The increase in non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, often related to changes in lifestyles, is placing growing demands on health and disability provision.
“Perhaps the most important external challenge relates to long-term demographic trends, such as population ageing, the reduction in birth rates and changing family structures, which affect all regions. These changes, which are the positive consequence of improved life expectancy and better healthcare, raise fundamental issues regarding the sustainable financing of retirement benefits,” he said.
There is much evidence to demonstrate how social security is responding effectively to these challenges. Based on a solid political commitment and heightened attention to the importance of improved administrative capacity, social security coverage has extended considerably in recent years. “I am convinced that social security is a success story, and that, despite a period of significant economic pressure, the outlook is positive. Social security is recognised by governments as an integral part of effective social and economic development strategies, for example, by the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in which tens of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and now have access to basic health services, thanks to the efforts of governments to extend social security to their citizens,” the ISSA official said.
The ISSA has supported a new vision for social security, called Dynamic Social Security. This vision encourages proactive and innovative approaches, which ensure accessible and sustainable social security systems that not only provide protection, but also encourage prevention, support reintegration, and contribute to social and economic development.
“The ISSA gives high priority to administrative excellence as a condition for dynamic social security programmes. At the WSSF, the ISSA will launch a series of international professional standards that will aim to strengthen the governance, performance and service quality of member organisations, and, importantly, the Forum will offer a unique platform for learning and exchange among the participants,” Konkolewsky said.
The ISSA official was of the view that the world forum being held in Qatar and for the first time in the Gulf region, is of great significance in at least three ways. “Firstly, Qatar represents a new centre of the world economy, and has gained great international prominence in recent years. It is therefore an important symbol that social security is discussed in a context of such dynamic change, and as an integral part of a country’s economy and political agenda.
“Secondly, Qatar and the GCC countries together have, in a remarkably short period of time, established a wide range of social security and healthcare systems for their citizens. The collaboration among the social security institutions in the GCC countries is also a model of cross-border co-operation and exchange. The Forum will provide a unique occasion to showcase these achievements, and to focus on the remaining challenges in the region as regards the provision of adequate prevention and protection measures for all.
“Finally, I am convinced that the welcome and hospitality of Qatar, and of the General Retirement and Social Insurance Authority, will create a context for a truly historic encounter, and will leave a lasting impression on the thousand delegates from more than 120 countries that we expect at this event,” he added.