Unequal coverage by social security

Other Names:
Unequal distribution of social security
The population of some countries or regions and certain social groups are not covered by social security to the same extent as others. In addition, one of the most negative consequences of a economic recession may be a certain weakening in some countries of the autonomy of social security institutions.

Partial and uneven coverage by social security often occurs during the period when a country is building up its social security programme. Data do not permit a meaningful analysis of the proportion of the population in the developing countries who are covered by social security. However, given the concentration of the system in the urban-industrial-public service population and the smallness of those groups in total population, it is evident that only a small fraction of the population in those countries is covered by some type of social security. This contrasts with the almost universal coverage in the developed countries. In addition, while practically all major social and economic groups are already covered by some type of social security in the developed countries, the relative coverage of such groups varies markedly in the developing countries; one notable feature being that public sector employees are more often covered for certain types of benefits than any other group. Thus over 70% of countries with some sort of social security system cover public employees in some degree for old age, invalidism and death benefits. The coverage for other groups is far less frequent. The same is true of sickness and maternity benefits; these groups being the next most important and the next most frequently covered.

These features of the social security systems in the developing countries reflect not only their stage of development and paucity of resources, but also a certain urban-public service elitism. Agricultural workers and the self-employed are virtually left out of the social security system altogether. Agriculture provides a special challenge to social security policy makers and planners. In all cases, the first measures of social security reflect the economic needs of the urban industrial community. Any extension of coverage to the agricultural community implies that schemes have to be introduced into a very different setting, and the type of need may in fact be very different from that of the urban wage earner. There is no single, world-wide, uniform model of agricultural activity. Variations stem from all sorts of local conditions - tradition, soil, climate, systems of land tenure, communications, extent of industrialization, level of education and so on. Given such circumstances, the extension of a conventional programme of social security to the rural areas is no easy task, nor is it necessarily a sufficient answer to the social security protection of persons in those areas. It meets the situation in areas where rural-urban communications are close enough for town and country to form one wage-paid community. Elsewhere, and particularly in developing countries, it has seldom proved possible to extend full cover to the countryside because of poor communications, the question of identification, and the problem of covering self-employed persons.

Even in the most industrialized societies and those with the most comprehensive system of benefits, inequalities exist. Generally women working in the home depend on their husband's benefits; yet in most countries women carry very little insurance if they are widowed or disabled or abandoned by their husbands. Many women's careers are interrupted because of the need to devote time to bringing up children; consequently, the old-age benefits they receive are very meagre. Married women are generally denied unemployment and disability benefits. Parental benefits are generally not paid to men. Unequal pension ages for men and women allow women to retire earlier than men. Some categories of migrant workers are not covered especially those from the third world. Many countries base their social security systems on occupational schemes so that persons who have become disabled before they began work are not covered. Survivors' benefits are generally too low and are often eaten away by inflations. The right to benefit of young school leavers and of married women entering the labour market is generally limited.

Related Problems:
Economic insecurity
Problem Type:
F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update
15.02.1999 – 00:00 CET