In the run up to our Summit on the Global Agenda, we asked you to put your questions to Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, from our Global Agenda Council on Social Security Systems. What are your questions about the future of welfare? Can our social security systems cope with millions of jobless young people, while providing a dignified life for the elderly?

Questions from our Facebook followers:

Austin Tasman Pickering: More job-sharing, please. It’s silly that one person works for 50 hours a week and another person is unemployed. Can’t we spread the load to ease the burden?

Hans-Horst Konkolewsky: Certainly, job-sharing has the potential to keep more people in employment during periods of labour-market imbalances.

In practice, this concept is not easily realized and raises critical issues about income levels, because working hours and salaries would have to be reduced for the individual. Further, how could employers secure the right match of profiles/qualifications, given rapidly evolving business needs in a dynamic market economy? Even in times of high unemployment, there are usually a considerable number of job vacancies that cannot be filled due to a lack of qualified labour.

Job-sharing (Kurzarbeit, in German) has been successfully introduced on a temporary basis in countries such as Germany and Belgium for specific industries affected by the crisis. Here, the state provides a subsidy to (partly) compensate for income loss when workers are on reduced working hours. This model has secured employment and kept in place a qualified workforce, but only for a limited time period (usually one to two years, maximum).

Another example is the wide use of part-time work in certain countries ­(the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries in particular) by the female workforce. Part-time work is seen to offer both active labour-market participation and a better work-life balance. Critics warn that working fewer hours risks becoming irreversible and that the reduced income and pension contributions raise concerns about whether part-time workers can afford to retire.

Wendy Buckleman: Does ignoring the wealth-creation potential of indigenous people mean we are giving them the wrong kind of welfare? Are we giving people fish instead of teaching them to fish for what they already possess?

Hans-Horst Konkolewsky: Indigenous people are often exposed to higher social risks than other sections of the population, as they do not have access to the same education, health and social protection systems, and consequently are not healthy, educated and empowered enough to become self-sufficient.

There is an increasing awareness of these insufficiencies in emerging countries, and governments and social security institutions are taking decisive steps towards delivering services in areas of deprivation (ie South Africa and Brazil), rather than expecting the vulnerable to approach their offices for service.

Questions from our Twitter followers:

@coxsays: How can we make welfare a system that builds self-sufficiency rather than dependency?

Hans-Horst Konkolewsky: To achieve this important objective, social security systems need to supplement their classic approach of offering protection in case a social risk materializes (sickness, unemployment, work accident, etc) with more proactive and preventative approaches. Risk management or health promotion, for example. And if an accident has taken place or a person has become unemployed, social security systems need to act early and provide support (medical, vocational, workplace adaptation, etc) so the person can return to work as soon as possible. We need to stop people from becoming dependent on long-term benefits.

@alanshearer2000What policy mix will ensure real improvement in Africa’s living standards?

Hans-Horst Konkolewsky: Living standards, as with all political, social and economic conditions, vary considerably between countries. However, so far the potential of social protection systems to alleviate poverty and improve living conditions has been underestimated. Africa is characterized by low social security coverage, and if we look at the positive experiences of countries such as Brazil, it can be hoped that the right to social protection will be recognized by more governments. Brazil, via a social assistance programme based on conditional cash transfers (Bolsa Familia), managed to lift millions of the poorest families out of poverty, and improved health and education.

In Africa, a paradigm shift seems slowly to be taking place, as health and social security coverage is increasing, with a dramatically positive impact on living conditions. In order to be fully effective, however, the universal coverage of populations through at least basic health and social protection must be an integral element of national development strategies in Africa, and elsewhere.

Author: Hans-Horst Konkolewsky is Secretary-General International Social Security Association (ISSA) and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Social Security Systems

Image: People wait in line at an unemployment office in Spain REUTERS/Susana Vera.

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