1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Towards Universal Social Security in Emerging Economies: Process, Institutions and Actors

  • Project from: 2012 to 2013


The project analyses the efforts of selected emerging economies to move towards universal provision of social security, with a focus on health care and income support. It provides a comparative analysis of the political, economic and social drivers of, and constraints on, the extension of social security to all, and draws out the implications for poverty reduction, equity, growth and democracy.

The Research Issue in Context
Today’s global context of crisis and uncertainty highlights the necessity of policies that simultaneously promote productivity and growth alongside greater inclusiveness, sustainability and empowerment. In many parts of the developing world, innovative social and economic policies appear to offer promising alternative approaches. A number of emerging economies in particular are pursuing social policies as integral parts of their development strategies, following paths that diverge from dominant development policy prescriptions.

Despite broad consensus around the value of universalism in these countries, for example in the provision of basic infrastructure and services such as water and sanitation, education for all, and basic health care and income security, strategies to achieve these goals are as diverse as the historical experiences of social security systems. Why and how have some countries moved successfully toward universal coverage in some areas of social security while others have not? What makes a society move towards universalism?

Research Objectives and Questions
By examining the efforts of selected countries—Brazil, China, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and Venezuela—to move towards universal provision of social security, with a focus on health care and income support, the project aims to contribute to a better understanding of the social, political, economic and institutional drivers behind successful cases of social security extension in the neoliberal era. Constraints preventing the extension of coverage also receive attention.

The research addresses the following questions:
  • What are the political, economic and social drivers of the extension of social security?
  • What are the political, economic and social constraints on the extension of social security?
  • How have the political, economic and social drivers and constraints responded to neoliberal pressures such as globalization, privatization and financialization?
  • How has the extension of social security impacted poverty, inequality, growth and political democracy?

As well as identifying innovations and alternatives from these experiences, the project will draw out policy lessons that might be transferable to developing countries, while giving sufficient attention to specific local contexts and the historical foundations of local institutions. The analysis and interim research findings will feed into shaping the agenda of the 2nd World Conference on the Development of Universal Social Security Systems (Brazil, September 2013).

Methodology/Approach
Four background papers will be commissioned to contextualize efforts to expand social security in the face of neoliberal pressures. These papers will (i) conceptualize the major components of the neoliberalization process and its impact on universal social security; and (ii) theorize the normative process of social security extension through examination of the experiences of both developed and developing countries.

Twelve country case studies will be undertaken to analyse the successful or unsuccessful extension of social security in different contexts, using a comparatively informed, historical- institutionalist approach. Both qualitative and quantitative data will be used to substantiate each country case study. The research project will give specific attention to identifying patterns of social security extension without losing the context-specific factors of each case. The primary resources for the research will consist of secondary materials such as published statistics, and published research and reports.

Research Beneficiaries
The project will contribute to current debates around different approaches to achieving universal social security. The research will be of interest to those in the development community involved in shaping, planning and implementing social policy, with a focus on health care and income support. The organizers of the 2nd World Conference on the Development of Universal Social Security Systems (Brazil, September 2013) will be the primary direct beneficiaries, as the analysis and interim research findings will feed into shaping the conference agenda.

Outputs and Activities
Outputs
Background Papers and Country Case Studies
Four background papers and 12 country case studies are under way. Some of these are online as UNRISD Working Papers.


Concept Note for the 2nd World Conference on the Universalization of Social Security Systems


Briefs and Viewpoints
Briefs and viewpoints will be published online to provide concise research updates and promote engagement around key issues raised in the research.

Activities
  • Methodological workshop (Bangkok, Thailand, September 2012)
  • Conference preparation workshop (May 2013)

This project is being funded by the Health Ministry of Brazil/HCor.