The World Social Security Forum (WSSF) will be held in Panama City from November 14-18, hosted by the Social Insurance Fund of Panama. This global gathering of over 1000 delegates from 150+ countries representing 300+ member organisations of the International Social Security Association, will analyse the global trends shaping social security and debate the key issues and challenges facing social security. The WSSF is the largest and most important international event for social security and is held every three years. The theme this year is, “Transforming lives. Shaping societies.”
I have been invited to attend the WSSF as the main presenter for a session titled “Evolving expectations: Innovation in user-centred service delivery.” In preparing for this presentation, I have been thinking about the global issues and challenges facing social security, and one of these is the digital economy and its impact on the future of work and the social protection systems supporting workers. Social protection functions in parallel to the labour market by providing a means of financial support when people experience social risks which prevent them from working and earning an adequate income.
The digital economy is changing the way we live and work. The empowering nature of the digital economy provides new opportunities for people to engage in self-employment, contracting and short term labour based employment models. While there is much debate on what the workforce of the future may look like, there isn’t the same level of discussion on the future of social protection systems to support this new upwardly mobile workforce against social risks.
Amongst all the change and disruption arising from the digital economy, we still expect work to remain a cornerstone of a functioning state. In return for contributing to society through work, the state provides various protections against social risks. As the nature of work changes within the digital economy, the solidarity (pooled risk) principle of social protection is potentially undermined. Maintaining an affordable and adequate social protection system with a fair distribution of risk, within an economy transforming to a digital paradigm, presents new challenges for policymakers.
As digital disruption contributes to economic growth, it can adversely impact formal labour markets. New digital based business models have the potential to shift the burden of social risk towards individual responsibility and away from employers and collective groups of labour. While the digital economy provides opportunities and incentives for people to be empowered and active, there remains obligations on the state to provide social protection according to the social norms of the country concerned.
As labour markets are disrupted and the responsibility of managing social risk becomes more fluid, the social protection system needs policy and delivery agility to remain financially viable while:
- Being inclusive for individuals engaging both inside and outside the digital economy
- Providing coverage for excluded populations such as (legal) migrants and people operating outside of the formal economy through legitimate circumstance (such as people in rural and remote areas in developing countries) who may or may not be engaging in the digital economy
- Maintaining a social safety net for people and their dependents participating in traditional labour markets and for those moving into the digital economy, in line with the ILO’s Social Protection Floor initiative R202.
Digital technology is enabling policy and service delivery agility within social protection systems through insight from digital data. This represents a new era of dynamic social security. Dynamic social security was first raised by the ISSA in 2007 (McKinnon, 2007) and was discussed at the 2007 WSSF in Moscow. Dynamic social security in the digital environment of 2016 represents innovation in deep cross program policy analysis through to predictive service interventions and real-time program evaluation based on digitized data.
So in preparing for my topic, “Evolving expectations: Innovation in user-centred service delivery,” in a social security context, I will be examining the impact of the digital economy on social protection, in particular how social security organisations can reach out and include people working in the new economy.
Stay tuned for more updates in the lead-up to the WSSF. See you in Panama, where the future of work and the future of social protection in the digital age will be discussed. Both will change and will face disruptions but the fundamental link between work and social protection will endure.
McKinnon, R. 2007. “Dynamic Social Security: A framework for directing change and extending coverage.” International Social Security Review, Vol. 60 No 2-3.