Social protection in the ASEAN-10: challenges in a diverse region

Expert note on social protection, prepared for the ASEAN Development Outlook 2021

  1. Introduction, outline, and scope

The ASEAN region comprises ten highly diverse countries in terms of historical legacies, their economic structures, and their welfare state conceptions. Politically, however, the countries of the region share the characteristic of operating as highly flawed democracies or authoritarian governments, with a predominance of dominant- or single-party rule governance (ASEAN 2016, p. 15; EIU 2020).[1] Relations with civil society are often tense (ASEAN 2016a, p. 15).

Socioeconomically, the countries fall into three groups. In terms of per capita GDP, one could cluster Singapore and Brunei as high-income countries; Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia as middle-income countries; and Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos as low income. Income poverty measured as percentage of persons living below the $US2 poverty line (measured in purchasing power parity), is immense in some of the countries, at 66% in Laos, 50% in Cambodia, and more than 40% in Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.[2] Income inequality, measured in the Gini coefficient, is marked in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand (above 0.4) and around 0.35 in the other countries.[3] Almost all countries face social exclusion issues around gender, diversity, and ethnicity, and these vectors of exclusion tend to intersect (ASEAN 2016a, pp. 9, 21). 

Factors such as these are relevant to contextualise the region’s social protection commitment, effort and performance, and assess prospects for progress on an agenda regarding social protection that is conceptualised as a right, situated in and delivered by a democratically-agreed social contract. 

Globally, social protection is severely wanting in all low-income countries – only 30% of the world’s population is adequately covered by social protection (ILO 2017). In the ASEAN-10, the wide range in income levels corresponds to the degree of formality in the country concerned, and hence to the provision and coverage levels of social protection, notably social security. For example, the majority of citizens (as opposed to residents) in Singapore and Brunei are employed in the formal economy, i.e. with social insurance coverage. At the other end of the income scala, in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, only those employed in the formal economy – i.e. the government, the military, and a few large industrial enterprises – enjoy access to social security, while the majority of the workforce is in the informal economy and at best covered by social assistance. Ethnic minorities live in most of the countries and suffer social exclusion. Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia have large migrant populations, and in several countries, there are stateless people. These groups are not adequately covered by, let alone seen as entitled to, social protection provisions. 

In this piece, social protection is understood as contributory social insurance and tax-financed social assistance. Social insurance conventionally covers entitlements to cash transfers in case of unemployment, accident, sickness, maternity, disability and old age, based on prior contributions by employers, employees, and supplemented, depending on the country’s provisions, by government co-funding. This is laid out in ILO Convention102, adopted in 1952, at the ILO (ILO no year (a)). 

Social assistance comprises cash transfers which are financed from taxation or donor loans or grants. Beneficiaries are entitled based on factors such as income – usually below a national or internationally defined poverty line, or identity – age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, or other categorical criteria. 

  • Looking at the social protection legal situation, effort levels and key coverage areas

In terms of legal provision – before even judging actual coverage and its quality – the ASEAN region does not perform at par with its potential, nor in line with its commitments. None of the ten ASEAN countries has ratified ILO Convention 102 on social security,[4]  although individual countries do have statutory schemes covering social security risks (ILO 2015).

With respect to coverage levels, the picture is therefore mixed. Across Asia overall, social protection covers only 55% of intended beneficiaries. Using effective coverage defined as the population covered in at least one area of social protection systems or social protection floors, only two countries in the region, the Philippines and Vietnam, meet the commitments made for example under the UN Agenda 2030 and notably SDG 1.3.1.[5]

Regarding contributory programmes, social insurance in Singapore recorded among the highest coverage in Asia, at over 70% of intended beneficiaries, while Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam substantially extended social insurance coverage (ADB 2019, p. xiii). With respect to social assistance, coverage in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam exceeded the average for Asia (ADB 2019, p. xiii).

An indicator devised to assess social protection effort is expenditure.  The ADB social protection indicator for example reveals that ASEAN social protection expenditure[6] averages 3.0% of GDP and 2.6% of GDP per capita for each intended beneficiary (ADB 2019, p. 7) – considerably below the Asian regional average.[7] Moreover, within this range, there is “a mixed pattern” (ADB 2019, p. 13), with Singapore and Malaysia spending 4.1% of GDP, and Viet Nam, a much lower-income country, spending as much as 5.5% of aggregate GDP (ADB 2019, p. 13) on social protection.[8]

ASEAN countries did however display social protection progress, even if marginal. Social assistance schemes in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam cover over a third of intended beneficiaries (ADB 2019, p. 72). The ASEAN countries[9] increased social assistance benefits and spending on the income poor (ADB 2019, pp. 60; 62). Progress was made with regard to life-cycle related programme areas, such as social protection coverage during maternity, old age pension security, and child benefits.[10] Some of these are part of contributory social insurance mechanisms, others are in the form of social assistance, some countries have combined modes. Access to work-place related insurances, and to health coverage is mixed.

For example, maternity leave, of varied durations ranging from eight (Brunei) to 26 (Vietnam) weeks, is available in all ten countries. It is wholly or partially covered by continued wage payments; in addition, Vietnam reports a programme providing cash benefits to 45% of mothers. [11] Myanmar has recently begun experimenting with a donor-funded pilot scheme in two states, in the form of a 1000-days benefit – a small cash benefit extending from the second trimester of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday (Bonnerjee 2017). 

With respect to old age pensions as a statutory entitlement, they are universal in Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.[12] However, with the exception of the Philippines, the level of benefit is extremely low, and hence the pension is a nominal entitlement rather than an actual provision. Cambodia and Myanmar have no legal provision whatsoever. Nevertheless, on the positive side, tax-funded, i.e. non-contributory, social pensions are available across the ASEAN countries, with the exception of Cambodia and Myanmar, [13] and entitlements have been extended in several countries. Between 2012 and 2015, governments the Philippines and Viet Nam increased funding and expanded their non-contributory social pensions, and the Old-Age Pension in Thailand reached 0.5% of GDP (ADB 2019, p. 71), which is a notable expenditure share in comparison to global averages.

With respect to other statutory social protection areas, all ASEAN countries feature mandatory injury cover for formal sector employees, with 70% and more of the labour force covered in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.[14] Conversely, only Thailand and Vietnam provide compulsory unemployment benefits,[15] and only in Thailand are a small group  – a third of employees – eligible for any disability provisions.[16]

Regarding health coverage, there is a global-level commitment to meeting the right to universal health coverage:  this commitment follows from the agreements adopted unanimously at the ILO Labour Assembly 2012: ILO Recommendation 202, and at the UN Summit for the 2030 Agenda in 2015 with its SDG 3. The ASEAN Social Protection Declaration commits to achieve this goal (ASEAN 2018, p. 6). As the ILO (2015) reports, four ASEAN Member States have achieved (near) universal health coverage, while the remaining Member States have reiterated their commitment. 

Thailand appears to have the most advanced system, introduced in 2002. All citizens are covered, either through health insurance via formal sector and civil service employment, and all others through the Universal Coverage Programme;[17] in addition, and probably an exception with respect to programmes in the global South, there are also provisions for registered migrants to access this system (see below).[18] Thus, health services access is reportedly almost universal.

However, the health coverage systems across the ASEAN countries have marked differences in terms of availability, and accessibility of the health services, their quality, and financial sustainability (ILO 2015 Executive Summary). Out of pocket expenditures of more than 10% of a household’s income affect nine and more per cent of households in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and – counterintuitively – also in Singapore. [19] As is well known, such burdens on households displace other basic expenditures, and eat into any savings or assets there may be. They can very quickly exacerbate income poverty, and catapult above-the-poverty-line families into acute income poverty – hence the term ‘catastrophic’ health expenditures.

Summing up then, the ASEAN-10 show a patchy image in terms of legislation, entitlement, effort and coverage, and much remains to be done across all the countries, regardless of their income levels, especially in light of the dire income poverty situations. The commitments have made at the ASEAN level. The challenges, and selected programmes, are presented in the next sections of the paper.

  • Looking at the challenges 

As obvious from the numbers overview of the preceding section, ASEAN faces a multi-pronged social protection policy challenge.[20] The following section offers a focus on specific areas of greatest vulnerability and insecurity, and hence with the greatest need for policy action. This includes the need to:

  1. broaden coverage with social assistance in the low-income member countries and to upgrade this to social insurance and to ensure social assistance coverage and access to social insurance for all residents;
  2. make sure that social assistance addresses gendered and income disparities and social exclusion;
  3. address the implications of migration for the persons concerned; and
  4. tackle the social protection challenges of disasters.
  1. Universalising social protection coverage as such: the need to adopt the social protection floor and to formalise the economy

Ideally, and as a right, all residents of a country ought to be covered by statutory social protection in the form of social insurance, bolstered by social assistance measures. This is the universalist, rights-based normative commitment.[21] Applying a gradualist approach, one strategy is to move towards meeting the tenets of the social protection floor, as agreed by the tripartite International Labour Assembly in 2012 in its Recommendation R202 on Social Protection Floors (ILO 2012). The recommended approach is to universalise social protection, starting with basic levels of social assistance, proceeding then to both extend social protection coverage and benefit levels at a basic level, and move up into more qualitative and reliable social insurance over time. This would also imply increasing formal employment.

An operational reference to this is found in the 2015 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development, where social protection features across several of the sustainable development goals and targets (ILO 2017). Using the specific SDG target 1.3.1, the Philippines and Vietnam feature as the only two countries on their way towards meeting this commitment.[22] The ASEAN countries need to adopt R202 as a way to push this agenda forward, as promised in the Declaration (2018, p. 3). 

  • Using social protection to guarantee social inclusion

All countries experience processes of social exclusion. Often under the official radar, they are based on identity vectors such as gender, ethnicity and language, religious minorities, sexual orientation, age, location (urban or rural, remote and difficult to access, urban slums), statelessness, and displacement, among others. Gender-based discrimination affects every country (UN Women 2018). Children are deeply affected by child poverty (UNICEF and ASEAN 2019).  Many of these forms of social exclusion intersect (Kabeer 2000; Kabeer 2010; UN Women 2018), worsening the situation of individuals and communities concerned.

Here, then, social protection policies need to serve two functions. Firstly, they must include all groups in a country, and ensure that disadvantaged and socially excluded persons, households, and communities are all fully aware of and receive their full entitlements, with no strings attached, as per the universalist normative agenda. Secondly, specific social protection measures can also be used as a tool for social inclusion, with a subset of social protection transfers especially addressing particular disadvantaged groups (Babajanian 2013; UNICEF and ASEAN 2019, p. 51ff). There can for instance be top-ups to cash transfers with an affirmative action effect, such as for girl children or for communities residing in disadvantaged geographical regions.

In the ASEAN region, disparities based on gender, ethnicity, age and citizenship status mar the polity across the board. Gender disparities exist in terms of formal labour force participation, wage disparities, access to higher education, representation in the political system, and violence against women (ASEAN 2016a).  In the formal economy, women’s labour force participation rates hover below 60 per cent in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, (ILO 2015, p. 53). Gender wage gaps, too, are marked (ILO 2015, p. 123, 125). This results in lower incomes, as well as a significant gap in the replacement rates of pensions in those countries (ILO 2015, p. 42), [23] creating stark gendered dependency in old age. 

Gender equality gaps are also obvious from time use surveys. These suggest an immense exploitation of women: in Laos, Malaysia and Thailand, women undertake 4 times as many hours of daily unpaid care and domestic work as men;  in Cambodia as much as tenfold the time. [24] Women’s low formal sector labour force participation rates tend to correlate with their roles as caregivers in the family and society.

In the low-income countries, maternal mortality remains extremely high. At face value, this presents as a seemingly medical-technical issue in terms of access to antenatal services and delivery assistance, notably in remote areas. In reality, the mortality rates demonstrate a lack of political will to institutionalise the necessary services, and to secure adequate  financial resources to provide inclusive public health services. 

Social protection transfers could help to shift the gendered, hierarchical and inequitable division of labour in the workplace and in the care economy – provided such policies and programmes are accompanied by improvements in the formal economy – such as wage equality and safety at the workplace, and  programmes to address patriarchal behaviours. Access to employment opportunities and political representation, too, could be facilitated if social protection were in place, as they can serve to give agency to women.[25]

The impacts of gendered access to health services and education could be addressed by social protection programmes in the form of enhanced maternity benefits, child benefits, and education grants. If women receive a maternity and post-partum grant, it may become easier to convince household members of their right to health care and to rest. Some forms of violence against women can be addressed when social protection coverage is predictable and adequate; they may help guard against forced and child marriages, or violence, or trafficking, if they serve to lift families above the income poverty line.

Ethnic minorities live in all the ASEAN countries, with larger numbers and shares in some countries than others. Ethnicity-based social exclusion in many countries intersects with income poverty, obstructed access to health and education services, and severe forms of discrimination (UNDP 2019; UN DESA 2020). The communities concerned often have no choice but to resort to distress migration (Tirtosudarmo (2018)). Across the region, ethnic tensions flare into violent conflict.

Multidimensional child poverty affects large numbers of children, notably in the low- and lower-income countries. In Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, 80% of households face multiple deprivations, in Indonesia and Vietnam 60%, and in Thailand 30% (UNICEF and ASEAN (2019) p. 55). At a rough calculation, this affects an estimated 25 million children across seven of the ASEAN member  countries (UNICEF and ASEAN (2019) p. 54).

Social protection programmes hence need to be designed to address all communities, if gender-, ethnicity-related and age-related social exclusion is to be overcome. An interim step is to use earmarked social transfers. Here, a common practice is that of tax-financed, age-based social assistance transfers, such as social pensions or child benefits/mother-child benefits. Examples of such measures are discussed below in section 4.

  • Introducing/systematising social protection for migrant workers

Another issue often outside the scope of most social protection policy discourse is the status of migrant workers (see Hujo and Piper 2010). The Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar, for example, witness large outward migration, with workers seeking employment not available in their own country. 5 million people from the Philippines, 4 million from Indonesia, and 3.5 million from Myanmar have migrated for work (IOM 2020, p. 26); in the case of Philippines workers who out-migrate, often to countries of the global North, are primarily composed of trained workers in the services sector. Many women migrants seek jobs in higher-income countries as domestic workers, and in some countries, women migrants outnumber men (ASEAN 2016a, p. 18; 68).

Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei rely heavily on the work of incoming migrant workers, with Thailand and Malaysia among the top 20 countries globally in terms of numbers of migrant workers employed in the economy (IOM 2020, p. 26; 75). In Thailand, an estimated three million people from neighbouring low-income countries work predominantly in the (seemingly) low-skills area of agriculture, construction, low-skilled manufacturing, fisheries, and other exploitative industries. [26] In Brunei, women migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia work in domestic work and men migrants from South Asia, notably Bangladesh, in construction and oil and gas; in Singapore, an estimated one million migrant workers, from Malaysia, India, Pakistan, are employed in low-skill work contracts with a monthly wage cap (Henry (2018) pp. 57f).

The social protection issue here is for these workers to have entitlement to all social protection programmes while in the host country, and to be able to carry their rights and entitlements, and retrieve their social security contributions, on return to their home country. 

  • Adapting social protection measures to displacements due to natural disasters or conflict 

Climate change has been increasing the frequency and depth of natural disasters, globally and across Asia  (UN ESCAP 2019). For the ASEAN region, this is a pressing social protection issue, with seven of the ten ASEAN countries regularly affected by natural disasters. In 2018, as one example, the Philippines experienced 3.8 million new displacements of people as the impact of a single disaster – the largest number globally.  Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos are affected by recurrent natural disasters as well (2018) (IOM 2020, p. 74; Köhler and Mathers 2017).

Conflict too leads to displacement that needs to be addressed, i.a., by social protection policies and programmes. In the Philippines, for example, 350 000 persons were internally displaced in 2017; and there have been cross-border displacements and flight from Myanmar to Thailand for decades, and to  Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent years (Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), 2018).  

Here, new areas and forms of social protection need to be institutionalised (ESCAP 2019; Koehler forthcoming). 

  • Looking at existing provisions and commitments 

At the standard setting and policy levels, the ASEAN-10 are well-placed in terms of comprehensive commitments to social protection. The ASEAN Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) mentions the role of social protection for the well-being and livelihood of the peoples of ASEAN, and in turn informs the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection (2018). The Declaration reads: “Everyone, especially those who are poor, at risk, persons with disabilities, older people, out-of-school youth, children, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups, are entitled to have equitable access to social protection that is a basic human right and based on a rights-based/needs-based, life-cycle approach and covering essential services as needed.” (ASEAN (2018) p. 3). 

The following section provides selective information on programmes designed to address the challenges outlined above.

  1. Programmes with a social inclusion lens

Social assistance programmes in the ASEAN countries show a preference for programmes addressing children, and these feature a built-in social inclusion lens. Interestingly, child benefits are the predominant form of social assistance in the global South, observed in 45% of the programmes, and 51% of the countries, reviewed in a global study (Leisering 2019, pp. 161 ff). Because they address children, they are the least contentious form of social assistance.

Six of the low- and middle-income ASEAN countries feature either scholarships or school meal programmes. The school meals are in general designed to ensure access to food and nutrition for school-age children, and also to provide an incentive to enrol and remain in school. None of the school meal programmes are universal,[27] instead, they focus on disadvantaged children. Selective examples follow.

In Cambodia, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, with WFP support, offers a scholarship programme in cash and kind, conditional on 80% attendance at school. It is addressed to students from low-income households, covering primary to upper-secondary school level. It is in the form of take-home food rations (rice and cooking oil), or, in rural or remote areas, in cash. [28]In parallel, there is a school meal programme in food-insecure districts in nine provinces for pre-primary and primary school children. The meal (breakfast) is provided on 200 days per year.[29]

Indonesia has a scholarship programme for students from low-income households with the catchy name of Smart Indonesia Programme (Programme Indonesia Pintar or PIP for short). The objective is for all children to complete at least 9 years of education. It reportedly reached 28 per cent of the age group, roughly 20 million children (2016).[30] The Family Hope Programme provides a cash transfer for six years to women, children, elderly people, and people living with disabilities, in the country’s  9 per cent lowest-income households. Interestingly, it covers the life cycle up to adulthood: pregnant and breast-feeding women, children aged 0–6 years premised on using health services for immunisation; children aged 7–21 years conditional on school attendance. Seniors over 70 and people living with a disability are also covered. The benefits are transferred via post offices and banks, generally to the mother in the family.[31] In addition, Indonesia has introduced a cash transfer programme for disadvantaged children, such as neglected children, street children, children in contact with the law and vulnerable youth and children with disabilities. [32]

The Laos National School Meals Programme, funded by the Ministry of Education and Sports with a grant from the World Bank, provides a hot lunch meal, and interestingly, it encourages gardening and small animal rearing, water and sanitation education, nutrition education and school income-generating activities. It is available in remote areas, ethnic communities, isolated areas, areas with gender disparities and with children with special needs, and areas with high prevalence of undernutrition and drop-out rates, as identified by the Ministry.[33] Similarly in Myanmar, a WFP-funded school meal programme is provided to pre-schoolers and school children in the lowest-income, highly disadvantaged areas,[34] but it reportedly consists merely of a breakfast biscuit.[35]

In the Philippines, the “4Ps programme” (Pantawid Pamilya, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino) provides health and education cash grants to eligible poor households, homeless street families,  indigenous peoples in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, and families in need of special protection, for example also regarding disasters.  It includes contribution-free health insurance and access to primary health care. In 2018, it covered over 4 million households with 20 million individuals, based on a poverty identification programme covering 75% of the country’s population (World Bank 2017). Similar to many human-development inspired cash transfer programmes in the global South,[36] disbursements are premised on school attendance – from pre-school to age 18, and the proven use of monthly health care services by pregnant women and young children. The School-based Feeding Programme of the Department of Education is limited to children with nutrition challenges, covering kindergarten to grade 6.[37] As in the Laos programme, school gardening is a programme component.

Vietnam has three child-related programmes. School stipends covering an estimated 2 million students (in 2014) are available for children enrolled in school from poor households, children in primary and lower secondary education living in the most difficult areas, and to ethnic minorities and Kinh children from low-income households in upper secondary education.[38] A programme called “Opportunity to Move out of Intergenerational Poverty” is an unconditional cash transfer in disadvantaged areas[39] for low-income households, with pregnant women or at least one child aged between 3 and 16 years and not attending school. The obvious objective is to encourage kindergarten/school attendance and health services usage, and more generally to “reduce poverty and improve human development outcomes for children”.[40]

A school lunch programme in Thailand, like that in the Philippines, is directed at children with nutritional challenges and consists of lunch and milk.[41] Most of the school meal programmes are school-based – this highlights the additional distress resulting for low-income families from the school closures in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic.[42]

The high-income ASEAN countries, Brunei and Singapore, also have provisions directed at children. Brunei has an education allowance for disadvantaged children (Leisering 2019 p. 169).[43] In Singapore, the Government’s Early Childhood Development Agency provides subsidies for infant and childcare and for kindergarten and school fees for children from low- or middle-income families.[44] Moreover, education costs or costs for after-school care subsidised for Singapore citizens, from  primary to pre-university level, in the form of means-tested benefits.[45]

Only three of the recorded regularised[46] programmes in the ASEAN region, however, address infants and toddlers. The rationale for such programmes is generally that adequate nutrition during the first two to three years of a child’s life are determinants for their health and possibly for education outcomes throughout their entire lives. One programme is Thailand’s child support grant for children under three. However, the grant is limited to very low-income households (per capita less than THB 3,000 a month).[47] Vietnam’s pertaining programme is for orphaned and abandoned children from birth until age 16, single persons taking care of small children, and families adopting children.[48] Singapore also offers a child development co-savings scheme, nicknamed “baby bonus”, which has a different objective: it is designed to encourage families to have children by contributing to the child’s health and education costs.[49]

With regard to gender-based disadvantages, the programmes mentioned above appear little attuned to this issue. The National School Meals programme in Laos is the only one that includes gender in the eligibility criteria. In the Philippines, there is also a gender incentive grant (ASEAN 2016a, p. 165 f). 

  • Programmes addressing migration

For the situation of work migrants, two provisions are key. One is their access to social protection within the country of work, and another is the portability of social protection entitlements. Globally one in 5 migrants are not covered by portability, and less than 1% of migrants moving between low-income countries is covered (van Panhuys et al, 2017). This is because of legal constraints in country of origin and destination, and because informal economy workers and undocumented migrants are often excluded. 

The pertaining landscape in the ASEAN-10 is mixed. For example, payments into the pension provident funds of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore can be carried, and there is no minimum years of contribution. The Philippines and Thailand provide no restriction of access. In Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam, a minimum period of contribution of 5–15 years to the social insurance system is required to carry the entitlement upon return. Indonesia and Malaysia allow voluntary contributions of foreign workers to the provident fund scheme, while Brunei Darussalam and Singapore only allow access to nationals and permanent residents (Pasadilla and Abella 2012). 

Thailand features a scheme whereby all Thai nationals have access to universal health care, as mentioned above, and in addition, all registered migrants can, in theory, join the health insurance scheme for a registration fee (Harkins 2015; Tangcharoensathien et al 2017) which is however very costly related to average wages. [50]

  • Addressing other vulnerabilities 

With regard to other vulnerabilities, notably those resulting from natural disasters or political conflicts, easily accessible information on social protection measures or programmes is lacking. As mentioned above, the Philippines “4Ps programme” includes provisions for displaced people;[51] however information on the modalities or its current coverage is not available.[52]

  • Outlook: engaging players to deepen and transcend existing commitments

Social protection is not a panacea. Of its own it cannot overcome income poverty, social exclusion, and other inequities, as it does not tackle their root causes – even if the benefit levels were such that recipients are lifted above the poverty line. Social protection therefore needs to be complemented by many other policy realms and efforts (Koehler 2017). 

Perhaps most centrally, abolishing poverty and tackling processes of social exclusion requires legislation and incentives for decent work – defined as employment creation, the right to social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue (ILO n.y.(b)). These have shaped SDG  8 of the UN 2030 Agenda.  

At the same time, often ignored in dedicated social protection discussions, is the requirement of social services infrastructure, which is a necessary pre-condition for overcoming the gendered division of care work. This would encompass free or easily affordable modalities for care provision, such as nurseries, kindergartens, establishments or arrangements for care for the elderly, people living with a disability; clinics for health care, etc. It also would need to include the mobility and energy infrastructure that makes such services or establishments accessible (Chopra 2018; UN Women 2018). Counselling and social work need to accompany grant programmes.[53] Only if social, psychosocial and economic infrastructure is in place, can cash transfers actually lead to an improved situation for individuals and households. The ASEAN Declaration (2018 p. 5) in fact does make reference to services in its remit.

Fiscal policy must obviously prioritise social expenditures and accord them a much larger share in the government’s federal and local budgets. This needs to respect expenditures for health services, education, social infrastructure, labour market policies as well as  social protection transfers as such. This is where a social contract (Gough 2004) has a key role to play. Instruments such as gender or child budgeting can be a transparent method to ensure the political will for social protection, and serve as a monitoring instrument. Again, the ASEAN Declaration (2018 p. 5) commits to provide adequate financial resources …  in line with national targets” but makes this “subject to the capacity of each Government” which then relegates social protection finance to political dynamics. 


Finally, the most fundamental approach to overcome income inequalities is agency and empowerment. The ASEAN Declaration (2018) makes commits to human rights, social solidarity, and gender equality – a promise which still awaits realisation. [54]Useful complements to social protection policies lie, for example, with instruments of affirmative action and right to information, which in other regions are encoded in legislation. This facilitates transparency and can make it easier for citizens to claim their rights (Sepulveda 2017).

In countries that do not honour human rights, cash transfers may flow, social security may be in place, but universalised, rights-based social protection in the true sense, as a constituent component of a democratically negotiated and transparently monitored social contract, still have a long way to go, throughout all the ASEAN-10 member countries. 

A series of recommendations appear to flow from this assessment:

  • Messages to governments

One handle to furthering social protection comes from the angle of international law. As UN member states, the ASEAN countries support the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Agenda 2030.  All have acceded to the CEDAW and CRC, and seven[55] have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The periodic reports of latter contain recommendations to governments which cover social protection.

Surprisingly, however, none of the ASEAN-10 has ratified any of the ILO Conventions pertaining to social protection, most centrally C102 on social security. Other Covenants and Compacts also require immediate attention. The core labour conventions have not been ratified in all the countries.[56] It would also be useful to ratify the ILO Conventions on Domestic Work (C189)[57] and on Homework (C177) which would introduce social protection for domestic workers and for workers in global production chains; as well as the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, the UN Compact on Migration, and the UN Compact on Refugees which each include provisions for social protection. The ratification process is an effective way to sensitise all ministries, the cabinet, the parliament itself,  and the media, to the rights contained in the respective convention. Moreover, once ratified, civil society has a legal anchor from which to claim these rights.

In addition, focus needs to remain on the implementation and improvement of existing social protection, and for extending coverage. The ASEAN-10 could extend statutory  social insurance so as the universalise coverage. They could also deepen social assistance-type transfers to socially excluded groups. For this, considerable political will is needed, and the necessary fiscal allocations need to be guaranteed.

  • Messages to trade unions

Globally, trade union density has decreased in recent years. In many of the ASEAN-10, the informal economy predominates, where the right to organise and processes of collective bargaining do not function, and independent trade unions are weak if at all existent. ILO C 204 on transitioning from the informal to the formal economy[58] could therefore be one process to look into urgently. The lack of worker representation has a direct bearing on the expansion, quality and reliable delivery of social protection, especially social insurance, and ratification of core labour conventions of the ILO would be important.[59]

  • Messages to civil society

The ASEAN commitments, notably the ASEAN Charter, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and the ASEAN Social Protection Declaration commit to reducing inequality and to providing access to social protection as a basic human right. Civil society in the ten ASEAN countries can make use of these commitments both for negotiations, and for pressure. For this however, democratic representation by civil society, and the voice and agency of society itself,  needs to be (re)instated.[60] It can be productive to refer to the findings and recommendations of Human Rights Council processes, such as Universal Periodic Reviews,[61] CEDAW and CRC, and primarily the periodic reports and shadow reports submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights under the ICESCR, where ratified. This can help create strong momentum for social protection. 

  • Messages to the academic community

Evidence-based analysis of policies, their effectiveness and inclusiveness is a prerequisite for negotiations regarding the expansion, deepening and universalisation of social protection. It is necessary to fill knowledge gaps. For example, despite the efforts of statistical offices and multilateral agencies, comparable data across the ASEAN-10 is patchy for sensitive issues on which to base policies – poverty and income distribution data is a case in point.

The ethnic and language diversity in the ASEAN member countries are barriers to accessing and utilising research findings, so it would be useful to ensure that analysis is available in most local languages. In addition, academia can provide policy briefs to support policy makers as well as civil society in their respective areas of decision making or advocacy.

Such efforts would be very supportive for furthering social protection across the ASEAN countries, and also assist the ASEAN Secretariat in its work.

  • Messages to media

Last not least, media – both public and social media – have a role that is often underestimated. Comprehensive and continuous media coverage of social protection programmes, their performance, of emerging ideas, pilots and new schemes, and of shortcomings or failures, can play a key role and create transformative pressure for the agenda of universalising and deepening social protection for all.

To conclude:  it is important to stress that, although the case for social protection is affirmed in the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection, “the fundamental human right to social security remains only partially fulfilled for the large majority in the region.” (ILO 2015, executive summary). 

References

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ASEAN (2016b) ASEAN Cooperation on Social Protection. ILO-China-ASEAN High Level Seminar to achieve the SDGs on Universal Social Protection through South-South and Triangular Cooperation 6-8 September 2016.
Beijing, China https://www.usp2030.org/gimi/RessourcePDF.action?id=53929

ASEAN (2018) ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection – Regional Framework and Action Plan to Implement the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection. Jakarta: ASEAN Secretariat, November 2018 (reprint). https://asean.org/storage/2019/01/26.-November-2018-ASEAN-Declaration-on-Strengthening-Social-Protection-1st-Reprint.pdf

Asian Development Bank (2016) The Social Protection Indicator. Assessing Results for Asia. Manila 

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Asian Development Bank (2019). The Social Protection Indicator for Asia. Assessing Progress. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/516586/spi-asia-2019.pdf

Babajanian, B. (2012). Social protection and its contribution to social cohesion and state-building. Eschborn, Germany: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit. https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7759.pdf

Bonnerjee, A. (2017) Piloting social protection in Chin State, Myanmar: Challenges and opportunities within a context of fragility. Global Social Policy. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1468018117729912

Chopra, Deepta (2018) Initiating women’s empowerment; achieving gender equality: Interlinkages amongst Social Protection, Infrastructure and Public Services. Background paper. UN Women Expert Group Meeting. Sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63) ‘Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls’ . https://www.unwomen.org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/csw/63/egm/chopra%20dbackground%20paperdraftegmspsbp1.pdf?la=en&vs=2659

Gough, I. (2004) Welfare regimes in development contexts: a global and regional analysis. In: I. Gough, et al., eds. Insecurity and welfare regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America: social policy in development contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harkins, Benjamin (2015) Social Protection for Migrant Workers in Thailand. in J e r r o l d W. H u g u et, editor.  Thailand Migration 2 0 1 4. United Nations Thematic Working Group on Migration in Thailand. Bangkok. pp. 27-44. https://www.iom.int/news/thailand-migration-report-highlights-social-economic-challenges-migration

Henry, Nicolas (2018) Asylum, work and precarity. Bordering the Asia-Pacific. Critical Studies of the Asia Pacific. London: Palgrave Macmillan 

Hujo, K. and Piper, N. (eds) (2010) South-South Migration: Implications for Social Policy and Development, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (Social Policy in a Development Context series) 

ILO (2012) Social Protection Floors Recommendation 2012 (No. 202) http://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessShowRessource.do?ressourceId=31088

ILO (2015) The state of social protection in ASEAN at the dawn of integration. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourcePDF.action?ressource.ressourceId=53336

ILO (International Labour Office) (2017) World Social Protection Report 2017-2019, Available at: https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/ShowWiki.action?id=594#tabs-3

ILO (no year a) C102 – Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102)

https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:12100:0::NO::P12100_INSTRUMENT_ID:312247

ILO (no year b) Decent work. https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/decent-work/lang–en/index.htm

IOM (2020) World Migration Report 2020. Geneva: IOM.  https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/wmr_2020.pdf 

IPC-IG and UNICEF (2019). Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific: Inventory of non-contributory programmes. Brasília: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth. www.ipcig.org.


Kabeer, N. (2000). Social Exclusion, Poverty and Discrimination Towards an Analytical Framework. IDS Bulletin, 31(4), pp. 83–97. 

Kabeer, N. (2010).  Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice. The challenge of intersecting inequalities. IDS and UN MDG Achievement Fund. 2010. www.ids.ac.uk

Köhler, G. (2017): The politics of rights-based, transformative social policy in South and Southeast Asia, International Social Security Review, Vol. 70 (4): pp. 105-126.

Köhler, G. and Mathers, N. (2017): Forum Introduction: Dynamics of social protection in fragile contexts: Nepal and Myanmar, Global Social Policy, Vol. 17 (3), pp. 347-352.

Koehler, G. (forthcoming). Potential effects of social protection interventions on social inclusion, social cohesion and nation building. In: Loewe, M. and E. Schüring. The Handbook of Social Protection Systems. London: Elgar.

Leisering, L. (2019) The Global Rise of Social Cash Transfers. Oxford: OUP

Lim, Ida (2020) ‘Statistics Dept: Malaysia’s new poverty line income is RM2,208, over 400k households considered poor’. Malay Mail. 10 July 2020. https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2020/07/10/statistics-dept-malaysias-new-poverty-line-income-is-rm2208-over-400k-house/1883285

Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC) (2018) Global Report on Internal Displacement – East Asia and Pacific https://www.refworld.org/docid/5b28b7270.html

Pasadilla, G. and M. Abella (2012). Social Protection for Migrant Workers in ASEAN. CESIFO Working Paper No. 3914 http://www.cesifo-group.de/portal/page/portal/DocBase_Content/WP/WP-CESifo_Working_Papers/wp-cesifo-2012/wp-cesifo-2012-08/cesifo1_wp3914.pdf

Sepulveda, M. Ensuring inclusion and combatting discrimination in social protection programmes: the role of human rights standards. International Social Security Review. Vo. 70, No.4. pp 13-44

Sumriddetchkajorn, K., K. Shimazaki, T. Ono, T. Kusaba , K. Sato and N. Kobayashi (2019). Universal health coverage and primary care, Thailand. Bulletin of the WHO. https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/97/6/18-223693.pdf

Tangcharoensathien, Viroj, Aye Aye Thwin & Walaiporn Patcharanarumol (2017) Implementing health insurance for migrants, Thailand WHO Lessons from the Field. http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/95/2/16-179606.pdf

Tirtosudarmo R. (2018) Migration, Ethnicity and Conflict in Southeast Asia. In: The Politics of Migration in Indonesia and Beyond. Springer, Singapore

UN DESA 2020. World Social Report: Inequality in a Rapidly Changing World. https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2020/02/World-Social-Report2020-FullReport.pdf

UNDP (2019) Human Development Report 2019, Available at: http://hdr.undp.org/en/2019-report

UN ESCAP (2019) Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2019 The Disaster Riskscape across Asia-Pacific Pathways for Resilience, Inclusion and Empowerment. https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/files/publications/Asia-Pacific%20Disaster%20Report%202019_full%20version.pdf

UNICEF and ASEAN (2019) Children in ASEAN. 30 Years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child https://www.unicef.org/eap/media/4281/file/Children%20in%20ASEAN.pdf

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Van Panhuys, C. S. Kazi-Aoul and G. Binette (2017) Migrant access to social protection under Bilateral Labour Agreements:
A review of 120 countries and
nine bilateral arrangements. ESS – Working Paper No. 57. ILO: Geneva. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourcePDF.action?ressource.ressourceId=54405

World Bank (2017) FAQs about the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/brief/faqs-about-the-pantawid-pamilyang-pilipino-program

Annex Tables

Table 1: ASEAN member states: Democracy index

 Democracy index
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia3,53
Indonesia6,48
Lao PDR2,14
Malaysia7,16
Myanmar3,55
Philippines6,64
Singapore6,02
Thailand6,32
Viet Nam 3,08

Notes: 

Index values above 8.0 denote full democracy; below 8.0 flawed democracy; below 4.0 authoritarian regime.

Source: 

EIU Democracy Index 2019. A year of democratic setbacks and popular protest. https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=democracyindex2019

Table 2: ASEAN member states: Poverty and income distribution

People living on less than $2 per day (PPP)YearGini indexYear
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia49,54200936,032009
Indonesia43,33201138,142011
Lao PDR66200836,742008
Malaysia12,27200946,22009
Myanmar222017
Philippines41,53200942,982009
Singapore 42,51998
Thailand14,05201039,372010
Viet Nam43,36200835,572008

Notes:

… not available.

Actual values are less than 2.0% and should be treated with caution.

2 Proportion of Population below $1.90 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) a Day. 

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table A.11.

https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/601126/basic-statistics-2020.xlsx

Table 3: ASEAN member states: SDG 1.3.1 “Effective coverage”

Population covered (in at least one area) 1People covered by social protection systems and floors
Children2Mothers and newborns3Persons with severe disabilities4Unemployed5Older persons6, 8Vulnerable groups7
Brunei Darussalam81,70
Cambodia0,683,18
Indonesia 14,00
Lao PDR5,60
Malaysia19,80
Myanmar0,680,37
Philippines47,0913,659,023,1039,807,77
Singapore18,9035,7243,2079,70
Thailand30,7121,2989,70
Viet Nam37,9044,529,7545,0139,909,97

Notes:

1 The proportion of the population protected in at least one area (SDG indicator 1.3.1 (a): Proportion of the total population receiving benefits at least under one of the contingencies (contributory or non-contributory benefit) or actively contributing to at least one social security scheme.

2 Proportion of children covered by social protection benefits: Ratio of children/households receiving children benefits to the total number of children/households with children.

3 Proportion of women giving birth covered by maternity benefits: Ratio of women receiving maternity benefits to women giving birth in the same year (estimated based on age-specific fertility rates published in the UN World Population Prospects or on the number of live births corrected by the share of twin and triplet births). 

4 Proportion of persons with disabilities receiving benefits: Ratio of persons receiving disability benefits to persons with severe disabilities. The latter is calculated as the product of prevalence of disability ratios (published for each country group by the World Health Organization) and each country’s population.

5 Proportion of unemployed receiving benefits: Ratio of recipients of unemployment benefits to the number of unemployed persons.

6 Proportion of older persons receiving a pension: Ratio of persons above statutory retirement age receiving an old-age pension to persons above statutory retirement age (including contributory and non-contributory).

7 Proportion of vulnerable persons receiving benefits: ratio of social assistance recipients to the total number of vulnerable persons. The latter are calculated by subtracting from total population all people in working age contributing to a social insurance scheme or receiving contributory benefits and all persons above retirement age receiving contributory benefits. 

8 OECD countries have survivors included under old-age pensions.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.3. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54610

Table 4: ASEAN member states: Public social protection expenditure

Total public social protection expenditure (% of GDP)
20002010Latest available yearYear
Brunei Darussalam3,292,312011
Cambodia1,050,611,192013
Indonesia1,79710,951,132015
Lao PDR1,670,681,202013
Malaysia2,403,443,772012
Myanmar0,490,962011
Philippines21,091,592,202015
Singapore1,582,304,162015
Thailand2,572,713,692015
Viet Nam4,064,586,332015

Notes:

1 Year: 1999.

2 The expenditure on social protection and health refers only to the central government sector.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.16. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54614

Table 5: ASEAN member states: Maternity coverage

 Length of maternity leave (weeks)Percentage of wages paid during covered periodMothers with newborns receiving cash benefit, 2015
Brunei Darussalam 8 (+1 unpaid)1002
Cambodia1350
Indonesia13100
Lao PDR15a1003
Malaysia8,6100
Myanmar14701,40,7
Philippines8,6a10059,0
Singapore161002,6
Thailand13100, 502,7
Viet Nam26b100844,5

Notes:

a Maternity leave is extended in case of complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth. 

b Maternity leave is extended in case of multiple births.

1 Up to a ceiling. 

2 Brunei Darussalam. Cash maternity benefits are an employer liability. There is an employment-related programme that offers cash benefits for people registered with the Employees’ Trust Fund. Under this programme, 100% of the gross monthly wage is paid for 13 weeks (the employer pays the first eight weeks; the Government pays the next five weeks, and the employee is entitled to two additional weeks of unpaid leave). 

3 Lao, PDR. In addition, a birth grant is paid consisting of a lump sum of 60% of the insured’s average monthly insured earnings in the six months before birth. 

4 Myanmar. Employees are also entitled to a maternity grant in the form of a lump sum benefit amounting to 50% of the monthly wage for a single birth; 75% for twins; or 100% for triplets or more.

5 Philippines. The benefit is 100% of the insured’s average daily covered earnings. Daily covered earnings are the sum of the six highest months of covered earnings in the 12 months before the six-month period (January-June, April-September, July-December, or October-March) in which the birth or miscarriage occurred, divided by 180. The benefit is paid for up to four births.

6 Singapore. The first eight weeks paid by employer, the second eight weeks funded by the Government up to a ceiling. For the third and subsequent births, the full 16 weeks will be funded by the Government up to a ceiling.

7 Thailand. 100% for the first 45 days (employer); 50% for the last 45 days (social insurance).  The benefit is paid for up to two births. Under the Labour Protection Act, an employer is required to pay an employee for up to 45 days of maternity leave. A new voluntary social security system for informal sector workers was initiated in 2011. In addition, a childbirth grant is paid to formal sector workers; the benefit is a lump sum of THB 13,000 for each birth.

8 Viet Nam. In addition, a birth grant is paid, which consists of a lump sum of two times the minimum wage for civil servants for each child born or for each adopted child younger than four months (rising to six months on 1 January 2016). When only the father is covered by social insurance, he is entitled to a lump-sum allowance of two times the monthly minimum wage for civil servants for each child in the month of the birth.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.5. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54605

Table 6: ASEAN member states: Old age pensions

   Estimate of legal coverage for old age as a percentage of the working-age population
Total Contributory mandatoryContributory voluntaryNon- contributory
TotalWomenTotalWomenTotalWomenTotalWomen
Brunei Darussalam10010062,550,63,22,0100100
Cambodia 20,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,0
Indonesia 3,469,7 65,9 3,8 0,00,0
Lao PDR80,585,813,813,866,772,00,00,0
Malaysia 510010048,638,114,513,236,948,6
Myanmar
Philippines10010057,543,742,556,3
Singapore10010065,462,034,638,0
Thailand 6,710010036,332,238,937,9100100
Viet Nam 810010033,127,666,972,466,972,4

Notes: 

a Detailed notes and definition available at: http://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?ressource.ressourceId=54606

2 Cambodia. Only public servants receive a pension. The legal retirement age is 60 for category A, 58 for category B and 55 for categories C and D. Civil servants receive a monthly pension equal to 80% of their net basic salary when they have accomplished at least 30 years of service; and 60% of their net basic salary when they have at least 20 years but under 30 years of service by the age of retirement. Those who have completed more than 20 years of service receive a proportional annual supplementary pension of 2% of their net salary. The total amount does not exceed 80% of the seniority pension and is not lower than basic monthly salary. Civil servants who have reached the retirement age and have less than 20 years of service will have no pension and receive only a lump sum allowance, equally to eight total monthly salaries. The scheme is fully funded from the national budget. A pension scheme for workers in the private sector is yet to be implemented. 

3 Indonesia. The defined benefit (DB) pension scheme (social insurance for private-sector workers) entered into effect on 1 July 2015, with the enactments of the Law on National Social Security System (Sistem Jaminan Sosial Nasional or SJSN) (No. 40/2004); then the Law on Social Security Implementing Agency (Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial or BPJS) (No. 24/2011) and government regulation on pension programme (No.45/2015).

4 Indonesia. Coverage rates are calculated with proxy data for number of workers, not exact value.

5 Malaysia. The social insurance scheme is only for civil servants.

6 Thailand. A new voluntary social security system for informal sector workers was initiated in 2011. The scheme is based on contributions from workers and the Government to finance old-age, disability, survivors’, sickness and maternity benefits.

7 Thailand. The Government’s contribution to the informal sector pension depends on the insured person’s age: 50% of the insured’s contributions if younger than age 30; 80% if aged 30 to 49; and 100% if aged 50 or older.

8 Viet Nam. Subsidies as necessary and the total cost of old-age pensions for workers who retired before 1995; contributions for those employed in the public sector and retired before January 1995. From 1 January 2018, the Government will start subsidizing the voluntary contribution (Decree No. 134/2015/ND-CP of 29 December 2015).         

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.9. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54606

Table 7: ASEAN member states: Non-contributory pension schemes

 Year introducedName of schemeLevel of benefit in % of minimum wage bNumber of recipientsEffective coverage (number, %) population 60 and overYearCost (% of GDP)Year
Brunei Darussalam1984Old-Age Pensionn.a.27.166,090,920140,42014
Cambodia
Indonesia2006Asistensi Sosial Usia Lanjut (ASLUT) (Social Assistance for Older Persons) 11,226.500,00,120130,02013
Lao PDR
Malaysia1982Bantuan Orang Tua (Elderly Assistance Scheme)30.0 –
32.6 
120.496,05,520100,12010
Myanmar
Philippines2011Social Pension Scheme101.8 -110.1 2.800.000,035,420170,12017
Singapore2015Silver Support Scheme
Thailand1993Old Age Allowance7.7 –
12.8 
8.048.298,071,820160,52016
Viet Nam 2004Social assistance benefit (category 1:  80 years old and over)15.4-22.5 1.350.226,014,720140,12016
 2004Social assistance benefit (category 2: 60–79 years old)11.6 –
16.9
207.421,02,320140,02016

Notes:

 n.a. Not applicable

… Not available

a As defined in United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1244 of 1999.

b For the countries where the national minimum wage varies according to region and/or sector of economy, an interval was considered.

Source: ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.10. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54607

Table 8: ASEAN member states: Injury benefits

Estimate of legal employment injury coverage as % of the labour force
Mandatory coverageVoluntary coverageLatest available year a
Brunei Darussalam85,30,02014
Cambodia15,30,02016
Indonesia 93,80,02015
Lao PDR6,70,02013
Malaysia71,60,02015
Myanmar38,261,02015
Philippines55,50,02015
Singapore72,90,02014
Thailand41,00,02014
Viet Nam38,50,02015

Notes: 

Datasets and reports from national labour force surveys or other household or establishment surveys for the latest available year or ILO modelled estimates for 2015.

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.7. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54604

Table 9: ASEAN member states: Unemployment benefits, latest available year

 Percentage of unemployed receiving unemployment benefits a 
 Contributory schemes Non-contributory schemesContributory and non-contributory schemesMaleFemaleLatest Year
Brunei Darussalamn.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Cambodia 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Indonesia 2,3n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Lao PDR 6n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Malaysia 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Myanmar 4n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Philippines 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Singapore 5n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Thailand 143,2043,22015
Viet Nam 14504535,356,72015

Notes:

n.a. Not applicable.

a Unemployed beneficiaries of general social assistance schemes are not included due to unavailability of data. Including them would increase coverage rates but only in countries where such schemes exist on a larger scale (high-income and some middle-income countries).

Data repository: ILO World Social Protection Database, based on the Social Security Inquiry (SSI) [June 2017].

2 In the absence of social security benefit in case of unemployment, workers covered by the labour law may be entitled to a severance payment, usually on the basis of a minimum length of service and/or the reason for the termination of the employment relation, sometimes depending on professional categories, size of enterprise or other criteria. A severance payment is a lump sum. Forty-eight countries without an unemployment benefit programme anchored in legislation provide such labour protection (information available in the ILO Employment Protection Legislation Database (EPLex) and in ISSA and SSA, Social security programs throughout the world).

3 Indonesia. The labour law (Law No.13/2003) mandates a severance payment in case of employment termination (amount between 1 and 8 months of salary depending on the duration of employment).

4 Myanmar. Myanmar enacted its social security law in 2012. The law includes unemployment insurance benefit (section 37), but the unemployment benefit has not yet been implemented. 

5 Singapore. No programme anchored in legislation. The Workfare Training Support Scheme provides subsidized employment training, including a training allowance of up to SGD 4.50 an hour of training completed, to persons who qualify for the Workfare Income Support Scheme.

6 Lao, PDR. Social insurance was implemented in 2016.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.6. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54603

Table 10: ASEAN member states: Disability coverage, latest available year

  Effective coverage (%) aLatest available 
year
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia0,72015
Indonesia
Lao PDR
Malaysia
Myanmar0,42015
Philippines3,12015
Singapore
Thailand 135,72015
Viet Nam9,72015

Notes:

… Not available.

a Effective coverage of persons with severe disabilities: detailed methodology is in Annex II.

1 Thailand. In addition, a lump-sum disability benefit is provided through the national savings fund, a voluntary scheme for self-employed persons working in the informal economy.

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.8. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54782

Table 11: ASEAN member states: Population with household expenditures on health greater than 10% 

TotalUrbanRuralYear
Bruneil Darussalam
Cambodia15,278,1117,242014
Indonesia 2,712,822,582018
Lao PDR2,983,332,842007
Malaysia0,740,880,492004
Myanmar14,3613,1814,832015
Philippines6,312015
Singapore9,012012
Thailand2,222,412,072017
Viet Nam9,399,149,511016

Notes:

… Not available.

Source: 

WHO Global Health Observatory. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators


[1] See Annex table 1. The EIU Democracy Index assesses countries on the basis of 5 indicators: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=democracyindex2019. Another indicator is available from CIVICUS which measures civic space. The assessment for the individual ASEAN countries ranges from ‘obstructed’, to ‘repressed’, to ‘closed’.  https://monitor.civicus.org

[2] For poverty and Gini coefficient data see Annex Table 2. Data on income poverty appear technically unreliable for Myanmar. No Gini data for Brunei. Data from ILO for latest available year, https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54779. Malaysia revised their national poverty line in July 2020, such that the national poverty rate stands at 5.6% (2019), instead of the 0.4% calculated using a previous methodology. Over 400 000 households live under this poverty line (Lim (2020)).

[3] See Annex Table 2. 

[4] See ILO status of ratifications of C102. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312247:NO

[5] See Annex Table 3 on effective coverage.  https://www.social protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54610

[6] Excluding Brunei, for which data n.a.

[7] As a comparator: the overall spending at country level ranges  from 21.1% of aggregate GDP in Japan to 0.1% in Myanmar, while expenditure for each intended beneficiary as a share of GDP per capita averaged 4.0%.  ADB 2019, p. 6.

[8] Also see Annex table 4 https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54614 which shows Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam all devoting more than 2% of GDP to total public social protection expenditure.

[9] Again, without data on Brunei.

[10] The child-related programmes are discussed below.

[11] See Annex table 5. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54605

[12] See Annex table 6. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54606

[13] See Annex table 7. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54607

[14] See Annex table 8 https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54604

[15] See Annex table 9. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54603´

[16] See Annex table 10. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54782

[17] Participants pay an annual fee which then gives access to health services at public hospitals. The system is organised with a unique identification number for each participant, which can be cross-referenced with the country’s other health care systems. For details and an evaluation see Sumriddetchkajorn et al (2019).

[18] IPC-IG and UNICEF (2019) p. 177.

[19] Annex table 11. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators

[20] For a discussion on country-level challenges see ASEAN 2016b.

[21] It derives from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Agenda 2030 and other multilateral documents, as well as from the ASEAN Declaration (2018). For a critical history, see Leisering 2019, p. 268 ff.

[22] As illustrated in Annex table 3. 

[23] The pension received is 40 per cent or less of the prior wage incomes (ILO 2015, p. 42). 

[24] United Nations (no year) Time use statistics. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/timeuse/index.html. Also see UN Women 2018. P 219ff.

[25] For an example see ASEAN 2016 p. 72 f, describing Indonesia’s programme for female-headed households, Women Head of Family Empowerment (Pemberdayaan Perempuan Kepala Keluarga (PEKKA)).

[26] Trafficking, slavery and forced labour are a major threat to these migrant workers. The scope of this paper does not allow a discussion of this issue, but obviously having rights to social protection in place in each country would be one of many measures to tackle slavery, e.g. in terms of people not being forced by acute poverty to fall prey to trafficking. See IOM (2020). P. 9. On the particular risks women face when displaced, e.g. in the context of disasters, see IOM (2020) p. 264.

[27] Generally, school meal programmes that are universal are preferable, since “targeted” programmes addressed to sub-groups within the school can easily have a stigmatising effect, by singling out the disadvantaged students. One approach to circumvent this can be to provide coverage to all children in all schools in a designated geographical area.

[28] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. Page 53 f.

[29] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 55.

[30] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 86 f.

[31] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019.  P. 88 f.

[32] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 90.

[33] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 94 f.

[34] Chin, Kachin, Magway, Rakhine, Shan, Wa, Kayin, Kayah, Mon and Sagaing.

[35] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 118.

[36] Government of the Philippines (no year). Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program

 Official Gazette. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/programs/conditional-cash-transfer/

[37] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 158.

[38] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 188 f.

[39] Hà Giang, Quảng Nam, Trà Vinh and Lâm Ðồng provinces 

[40] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 186

[41] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 175.

[42] In a few countries or states, school meal rations were delivered to the students’ homes: Kerala in India was an example. Information whether this happened in the ASEAN region needs to be compiled.

[43] No other source found on this.

[44] https://www.ecda.gov.sg/Pages/Subsidies-and-Financial-Assistance.aspx#CCICS

[45] https://www.gov.sg/article/financial-support-for-singaporean-students-at-every-stage-of-education

[46] Myanmar’s mother and child 1000 days grant is a pilot scheme.

[47] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 175.

[48] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 180.

[49]https://www.babybonus.msf.gov.sg/parent/web/about?_afrLoop=35208443470029345&_afrWindowMode=0&_afrWindowId=11kn43u60d_1#%40%3F_afrWindowId%3D11kn43u60d_1%26_afrLoop%3D35208443470029345%26_afrWindowMode%3D0%26_adf.ctrl-state%3D11kn43u60d_17

[50] Also see ASEAN 2016, p. 161 f. on programme for returning migrants in the Philippines which includes a form of time-bound social assistance.

[51] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 154.

[52] My research may have missed pertaining literature.

[53] Myanmar in its social protection strategic plan of 2014 included access to case work support and the training of skilled social workers. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourcePDF.action?ressource.ressourceId=50377

[54] The full text reads: “Implementation of social protection should be based on respect for fundamental freedoms, promotion and 
protection of human rights, promotion of social justice, social solidarity, non-discrimination, accessibility, reasonable accommodation, gender equality, social inclusiveness, coherence, and accountability (ASEAN declaration 2018, p.3). 

[55] Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. See OHCHR https://indicators.ohchr.org

[56] For example, C087 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise has only been ratified by four countries (Cambodia Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines). https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312232:NO.  C098 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining has been ratified by Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312243:NO.

[57] The Philippines has national legislation (Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers) and ratified ILO Convention 189 in 2011. ASEAN 2016, p.145

[58] https://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/previous-sessions/104/texts-adopted/WCMS_377774/lang–en/index.htm

[59] See footnote 55 above.

[60] See footnote 2.

[61] All ten countries have submitted such reports. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/Documentation.aspx

The ASEAN region comprises ten highly diverse countries in terms of historical legacies, their economic structures, and their welfare state conceptions. Politically, however, the countries of the region share the characteristic of operating as highly flawed democracies or authoritarian, with a predominance of dominant- or single-party rule governance (ASEAN 2016, p. 15; EIU 2020).[1] Relations with civil society are often tense (ASEAN 2016a, p. 15).

Socioeconomically, the countries fall into three groups. In terms of per capita GDP, one could cluster Singapore and Brunei as high-income countries; Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia as middle-income countries; and Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos as low income. Income poverty measured as percentage of persons living below the $US2 poverty line (measured in purchasing power parity), is immense in some of the countries, at 66% in Laos, 50% in Cambodia, and more than 40% in Indonesia, the Philippines and.[2] Income inequality, measured in the Gini coefficient, is marked in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand (above 0.4) and around 0.35 in the other countries.[3] Almost all countries face social exclusion issues around gender, diversity, and ethnicity, and these vectors of exclusion tend to intersect (ASEAN 2016a, pp. 9, 21). 

Factors such as these are relevant to contextualise the region’s social protection commitment, effort and performance, and assess prospects for progress on an agenda regarding social protection that is conceptualised as a right, situated in and delivered by a democratically-agreed social contract. 

Globally, social protection is severely wanting in all low-income countries – only 30% of the world’s population is adequately covered by social protection (ILO 2017). In the ASEAN-10, the wide range in income levels corresponds to the degree of formality in the country concerned, and hence to the provision and coverage levels of social protection, notably social security. For example, the majority of citizens (as opposed to residents) in Singapore and Brunei are employed in the formal economy, i.e. with social insurance coverage. At the other end of the income scala, in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar, only those employed in the formal economy – i.e. the government, the military, and a few large industrial enterprises – enjoy access to social security, while the majority of the workforce is in the informal economy and at best covered by social assistance. Ethnic minorities live in most of the countries and suffer social exclusion. Thailand, Brunei, Singapore, and Malaysia have large migrant populations, and in several countries, there are stateless people. These groups are not adequately covered by, let alone seen as entitled to, social protection provisions. 

In this piece, social protection is understood as contributory social insurance and tax-financed social assistance. Social insurance conventionally covers entitlements to cash transfers in case of unemployment, accident, sickness, maternity, disability and old age, based on prior contributions by employers, employees, and supplemented, depending on the country’s provisions, by government co-funding. This is laid out in ILO Convention102, adopted in 1952, at the ILO (ILO no year (a)). 

Social assistance comprises cash transfers which are financed from taxation or donor loans or grants. Beneficiaries are entitled based on factors such as income – usually below a national or internationally defined poverty line, or identity – age, gender, ethnicity, geographic location, or other categorical criteria. 

  • Looking at the social protection legal situation, effort levels and key coverage areas

In terms of legal provision – before even judging actual coverage and its quality – the ASEAN region does not perform at par with its potential, nor in line with its commitments. None of the ten ASEAN countries has ratified ILO Convention 102 on social security,[4]  although individual countries do have statutory schemes covering social security risks (ILO 2015).

With respect to coverage levels, the picture is therefore mixed. Across Asia overall, social protection covers only 55% of intended beneficiaries. Using effective coverage defined as the population covered in at least one area of social protection systems or social protection floors, only two countries in the region, the Philippines and Vietnam, meet the commitments made for example under the UN Agenda 2030 and notably SDG 1.3.1.[5]

Regarding contributory programmes, social insurance in Singapore recorded among the highest coverage in Asia, at over 70% of intended beneficiaries, while Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam substantially extended social insurance coverage (ADB 2019, p. xiii). With respect to social assistance, coverage in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam exceeded the average for Asia (ADB 2019, p. xiii).

An indicator devised to assess social protection effort is expenditure.  The ADB social protection indicator for example reveals that ASEAN social protection expenditure[6] averages 3.0% of GDP and 2.6% of GDP per capita for each intended beneficiary (ADB 2019, p. 7) – considerably below the Asian regional average.[7] Moreover, within this range, there is “a mixed pattern” (ADB 2019, p. 13), with Singapore and Malaysia spending 4.1% of GDP, and Viet Nam, a much lower-income country, spending as much as 5.5% of aggregate GDP (ADB 2019, p. 13) on social protection.[8]

ASEAN countries did however display social protection progress, even if marginal. Social assistance schemes in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Viet Nam cover over a third of intended beneficiaries (ADB 2019, p. 72). The ASEAN countries[9] increased social assistance benefits and spending on the income poor (ADB 2019, pp. 60; 62). Progress was made with regard to life-cycle related programme areas, such as social protection coverage during maternity, old age pension security, and child benefits.[10] Some of these are part of contributory social insurance mechanisms, others are in the form of social assistance, some countries have combined modes. Access to work-place related insurances, and to health coverage is mixed.

For example, maternity leave, of varied durations ranging from eight (Brunei) to 26 (Vietnam) weeks, is available in all ten countries. It is wholly or partially covered by continued wage payments; in addition, Vietnam reports a programme providing cash benefits to 45% of mothers. [11] Myanmar has recently begun experimenting with a donor-funded pilot scheme in two states, in the form of a 1000-days benefit – a small cash benefit extending from the second trimester of a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday (Bonnerjee 2017). 

With respect to old age pensions as a statutory entitlement, they are universal in Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.[12] However, with the exception of the Philippines, the level of benefit is extremely low, and hence the pension is a nominal entitlement rather than an actual provision. Cambodia and Myanmar have no legal provision whatsoever. Nevertheless, on the positive side, tax-funded, i.e. non-contributory, social pensions are available across the ASEAN countries, with the exception of Cambodia and Myanmar, [13] and entitlements have been extended in several countries. Between 2012 and 2015, governments the Philippines and Viet Nam increased funding and expanded their non-contributory social pensions, and the Old-Age Pension in Thailand reached 0.5% of GDP (ADB 2019, p. 71), which is a notable expenditure share in comparison to global averages.

With respect to other statutory social protection areas, all ASEAN countries feature mandatory injury cover for formal sector employees, with 70% and more of the labour force covered in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.[14] Conversely, only Thailand and Vietnam provide compulsory unemployment benefits,[15] and only in Thailand are a small group  – a third of employees – eligible for any disability provisions.[16]

Regarding health coverage, there is a global-level commitment to meeting the right to universal health coverage:  this commitment follows from the agreements adopted unanimously at the ILO Labour Assembly 2012: ILO Recommendation 202, and at the UN Summit for the 2030 Agenda in 2015 with its SDG 3. The ASEAN Social Protection Declaration commits to achieve this goal (ASEAN 2018, p. 6). As the ILO (2015) reports, four ASEAN Member States have achieved (near) universal health coverage, while the remaining Member States have reiterated their commitment. 

Thailand appears to have the most advanced system, introduced in 2002. All citizens are covered, either through health insurance via formal sector and civil service employment, and all others through the Universal Coverage Programme;[17] in addition, and probably an exception with respect to programmes in the global South, there are also provisions for registered migrants to access this system (see below).[18] Thus, health services access is reportedly almost universal.

However, the health coverage systems across the ASEAN countries have marked differences in terms of availability, and accessibility of the health services, their quality, and financial sustainability (ILO 2015 Executive Summary). Out of pocket expenditures of more than 10% of a household’s income affect nine and more per cent of households in Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and – counterintuitively – also in Singapore. [19] As is well known, such burdens on households displace other basic expenditures, and eat into any savings or assets there may be. They can very quickly exacerbate income poverty, and catapult above-the-poverty-line families into acute income poverty – hence the term ‘catastrophic’ health expenditures.

Summing up then, the ASEAN-10 show a patchy image in terms of legislation, entitlement, effort and coverage, and much remains to be done across all the countries, regardless of their income levels, especially in light of the dire income poverty situations. The commitments have made at the ASEAN level. The challenges, and selected programmes, are presented in the next sections of the paper.

  • Looking at the challenges 

As obvious from the numbers overview of the preceding section, ASEAN faces a multi-pronged social protection policy challenge.[20] The following section offers a focus on specific areas of greatest vulnerability and insecurity, and hence with the greatest need for policy action. This includes the need to:

  1. broaden coverage with social assistance in the low-income member countries and to upgrade this to social insurance and to ensure social assistance coverage and access to social insurance for all residents;
  2. make sure that social assistance addresses gendered and income disparities and social exclusion;
  3. address the implications of migration for the persons concerned; and
  4. tackle the social protection challenges of disasters.
  1. Universalising social protection coverage as such: the need to adopt the social protection floor and to formalise the economy

Ideally, and as a right, all residents of a country ought to be covered by statutory social protection in the form of social insurance, bolstered by social assistance measures. This is the universalist, rights-based normative commitment.[21] Applying a gradualist approach, one strategy is to move towards meeting the tenets of the social protection floor, as agreed by the tripartite International Labour Assembly in 2012 in its Recommendation R202 on Social Protection Floors (ILO 2012). The recommended approach is to universalise social protection, starting with basic levels of social assistance, proceeding then to both extend social protection coverage and benefit levels at a basic level, and move up into more qualitative and reliable social insurance over time. This would also imply increasing formal employment.

An operational reference to this is found in the 2015 UN Agenda on Sustainable Development, where social protection features across several of the sustainable development goals and targets (ILO 2017). Using the specific SDG target 1.3.1, the Philippines and Vietnam feature as the only two countries on their way towards meeting this commitment.[22] The ASEAN countries need to adopt R202 as a way to push this agenda forward, as promised in the Declaration (2018, p. 3). 

  • Using social protection to guarantee social inclusion

All countries experience processes of social exclusion. Often under the official radar, they are based on identity vectors such as gender, ethnicity and language, religious minorities, sexual orientation, age, location (urban or rural, remote and difficult to access, urban slums), statelessness, and displacement, among others. Gender-based discrimination affects every country (UN Women 2018). Children are deeply affected by child poverty (UNICEF and ASEAN 2019).  Many of these forms of social exclusion intersect (Kabeer 2000; Kabeer 2010; UN Women 2018), worsening the situation of individuals and communities concerned.

Here, then, social protection policies need to serve two functions. Firstly, they must include all groups in a country, and ensure that disadvantaged and socially excluded persons, households, and communities are all fully aware of and receive their full entitlements, with no strings attached, as per the universalist normative agenda. Secondly, specific social protection measures can also be used as a tool for social inclusion, with a subset of social protection transfers especially addressing particular disadvantaged groups (Babajanian 2013; UNICEF and ASEAN 2019, p. 51ff). There can for instance be top-ups to cash transfers with an affirmative action effect, such as for girl children or for communities residing in disadvantaged geographical regions.

In the ASEAN region, disparities based on gender, ethnicity, age and citizenship status mar the polity across the board. Gender disparities exist in terms of formal labour force participation, wage disparities, access to higher education, representation in the political system, and violence against women (ASEAN 2016a).  In the formal economy, women’s labour force participation rates hover below 60 per cent in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, (ILO 2015, p. 53). Gender wage gaps, too, are marked (ILO 2015, p. 123, 125). This results in lower incomes, as well as a significant gap in the replacement rates of pensions in those countries (ILO 2015, p. 42), [23] creating stark gendered dependency in old age. 

Gender equality gaps are also obvious from time use surveys. These suggest an immense exploitation of women: in Laos, Malaysia and Thailand, women undertake 4 times as many hours of daily unpaid care and domestic work as men;  in Cambodia as much as tenfold the time. [24] Women’s low formal sector labour force participation rates tend to correlate with their roles as caregivers in the family and society.

In the low-income countries, maternal mortality remains extremely high. At face value, this presents as a seemingly medical-technical issue in terms of access to antenatal services and delivery assistance, notably in remote areas. In reality, the mortality rates demonstrate a lack of political will to institutionalise the necessary services, and to secure adequate  financial resources to provide inclusive public health services. 

Social protection transfers could help to shift the gendered, hierarchical and inequitable division of labour in the workplace and in the care economy – provided such policies and programmes are accompanied by improvements in the formal economy – such as wage equality and safety at the workplace, and  programmes to address patriarchal behaviours. Access to employment opportunities and political representation, too, could be facilitated if social protection were in place, as they can serve to give agency to women.[25]

The impacts of gendered access to health services and education could be addressed by social protection programmes in the form of enhanced maternity benefits, child benefits, and education grants. If women receive a maternity and post-partum grant, it may become easier to convince household members of their right to health care and to rest. Some forms of violence against women can be addressed when social protection coverage is predictable and adequate; they may help guard against forced and child marriages, or violence, or trafficking, if they serve to lift families above the income poverty line.

Ethnic minorities live in all the ASEAN countries, with larger numbers and shares in some countries than others. Ethnicity-based social exclusion in many countries intersects with income poverty, obstructed access to health and education services, and severe forms of discrimination (UNDP 2019; UN DESA 2020). The communities concerned often have no choice but to resort to distress migration (Tirtosudarmo (2018)). Across the region, ethnic tensions flare into violent conflict.

Multidimensional child poverty affects large numbers of children, notably in the low- and lower-income countries. In Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, 80% of households face multiple deprivations, in Indonesia and Vietnam 60%, and in Thailand 30% (UNICEF and ASEAN (2019) p. 55). At a rough calculation, this affects an estimated 25 million children across seven of the ASEAN member  countries (UNICEF and ASEAN (2019) p. 54).

Social protection programmes hence need to be designed to address all communities, if gender-, ethnicity-related and age-related social exclusion is to be overcome. An interim step is to use earmarked social transfers. Here, a common practice is that of tax-financed, age-based social assistance transfers, such as social pensions or child benefits/mother-child benefits. Examples of such measures are discussed below in section 4.

  • Introducing/systematising social protection for migrant workers

Another issue often outside the scope of most social protection policy discourse is the status of migrant workers (see Hujo and Piper 2010). The Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar, for example, witness large outward migration, with workers seeking employment not available in their own country. 5 million people from the Philippines, 4 million from Indonesia, and 3.5 million from Myanmar have migrated for work (IOM 2020, p. 26); in the case of Philippines workers who out-migrate, often to countries of the global North, are primarily composed of trained workers in the services sector. Many women migrants seek jobs in higher-income countries as domestic workers, and in some countries, women migrants outnumber men (ASEAN 2016a, p. 18; 68).

Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei rely heavily on the work of incoming migrant workers, with Thailand and Malaysia among the top 20 countries globally in terms of numbers of migrant workers employed in the economy (IOM 2020, p. 26; 75). In Thailand, an estimated three million people from neighbouring low-income countries work predominantly in the (seemingly) low-skills area of agriculture, construction, low-skilled manufacturing, fisheries, and other exploitative industries. [26] In Brunei, women migrants from the Philippines and Indonesia work in domestic work and men migrants from South Asia, notably Bangladesh, in construction and oil and gas; in Singapore, an estimated one million migrant workers, from Malaysia, India, Pakistan, are employed in low-skill work contracts with a monthly wage cap (Henry (2018) pp. 57f).

The social protection issue here is for these workers to have entitlement to all social protection programmes while in the host country, and to be able to carry their rights and entitlements, and retrieve their social security contributions, on return to their home country. 

  • Adapting social protection measures to displacements due to natural disasters or conflict 

Climate change has been increasing the frequency and depth of natural disasters, globally and across Asia  (UN ESCAP 2019). For the ASEAN region, this is a pressing social protection issue, with seven of the ten ASEAN countries regularly affected by natural disasters. In 2018, as one example, the Philippines experienced 3.8 million new displacements of people as the impact of a single disaster – the largest number globally.  Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia and Laos are affected by recurrent natural disasters as well (2018) (IOM 2020, p. 74; Köhler and Mathers 2017).

Conflict too leads to displacement that needs to be addressed, i.a., by social protection policies and programmes. In the Philippines, for example, 350 000 persons were internally displaced in 2017; and there have been cross-border displacements and flight from Myanmar to Thailand for decades, and to  Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia in recent years (Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (NRC/IDMC), 2018).  

Here, new areas and forms of social protection need to be institutionalised (ESCAP 2019; Koehler forthcoming). 

  • Looking at existing provisions and commitments 

At the standard setting and policy levels, the ASEAN-10 are well-placed in terms of comprehensive commitments to social protection. The ASEAN Cha-am Hua Hin Declaration on the Roadmap for the ASEAN Community (2009-2015) mentions the role of social protection for the well-being and livelihood of the peoples of ASEAN, and in turn informs the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection (2018). The Declaration reads: “Everyone, especially those who are poor, at risk, persons with disabilities, older people, out-of-school youth, children, migrant workers, and other vulnerable groups, are entitled to have equitable access to social protection that is a basic human right and based on a rights-based/needs-based, life-cycle approach and covering essential services as needed.” (ASEAN (2018) p. 3). 

The following section provides selective information on programmes designed to address the challenges outlined above.

  1. Programmes with a social inclusion lens

Social assistance programmes in the ASEAN countries show a preference for programmes addressing children, and these feature a built-in social inclusion lens. Interestingly, child benefits are the predominant form of social assistance in the global South, observed in 45% of the programmes, and 51% of the countries, reviewed in a global study (Leisering 2019, pp. 161 ff). Because they address children, they are the least contentious form of social assistance.

Six of the low- and middle-income ASEAN countries feature either scholarships or school meal programmes. The school meals are in general designed to ensure access to food and nutrition for school-age children, and also to provide an incentive to enrol and remain in school. None of the school meal programmes are universal,[27] instead, they focus on disadvantaged children. Selective examples follow.

In Cambodia, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, with WFP support, offers a scholarship programme in cash and kind, conditional on 80% attendance at school. It is addressed to students from low-income households, covering primary to upper-secondary school level. It is in the form of take-home food rations (rice and cooking oil), or, in rural or remote areas, in cash. [28]In parallel, there is a school meal programme in food-insecure districts in nine provinces for pre-primary and primary school children. The meal (breakfast) is provided on 200 days per year.[29]

Indonesia has a scholarship programme for students from low-income households with the catchy name of Smart Indonesia Programme (Programme Indonesia Pintar or PIP for short). The objective is for all children to complete at least 9 years of education. It reportedly reached 28 per cent of the age group, roughly 20 million children (2016).[30] The Family Hope Programme provides a cash transfer for six years to women, children, elderly people, and people living with disabilities, in the country’s  9 per cent lowest-income households. Interestingly, it covers the life cycle up to adulthood: pregnant and breast-feeding women, children aged 0–6 years premised on using health services for immunisation; children aged 7–21 years conditional on school attendance. Seniors over 70 and people living with a disability are also covered. The benefits are transferred via post offices and banks, generally to the mother in the family.[31] In addition, Indonesia has introduced a cash transfer programme for disadvantaged children, such as neglected children, street children, children in contact with the law and vulnerable youth and children with disabilities. [32]

The Laos National School Meals Programme, funded by the Ministry of Education and Sports with a grant from the World Bank, provides a hot lunch meal, and interestingly, it encourages gardening and small animal rearing, water and sanitation education, nutrition education and school income-generating activities. It is available in remote areas, ethnic communities, isolated areas, areas with gender disparities and with children with special needs, and areas with high prevalence of undernutrition and drop-out rates, as identified by the Ministry.[33] Similarly in Myanmar, a WFP-funded school meal programme is provided to pre-schoolers and school children in the lowest-income, highly disadvantaged areas,[34] but it reportedly consists merely of a breakfast biscuit.[35]

In the Philippines, the “4Ps programme” (Pantawid Pamilya, Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino) provides health and education cash grants to eligible poor households, homeless street families,  indigenous peoples in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, and families in need of special protection, for example also regarding disasters.  It includes contribution-free health insurance and access to primary health care. In 2018, it covered over 4 million households with 20 million individuals, based on a poverty identification programme covering 75% of the country’s population (World Bank 2017). Similar to many human-development inspired cash transfer programmes in the global South,[36] disbursements are premised on school attendance – from pre-school to age 18, and the proven use of monthly health care services by pregnant women and young children. The School-based Feeding Programme of the Department of Education is limited to children with nutrition challenges, covering kindergarten to grade 6.[37] As in the Laos programme, school gardening is a programme component.

Vietnam has three child-related programmes. School stipends covering an estimated 2 million students (in 2014) are available for children enrolled in school from poor households, children in primary and lower secondary education living in the most difficult areas, and to ethnic minorities and Kinh children from low-income households in upper secondary education.[38] A programme called “Opportunity to Move out of Intergenerational Poverty” is an unconditional cash transfer in disadvantaged areas[39] for low-income households, with pregnant women or at least one child aged between 3 and 16 years and not attending school. The obvious objective is to encourage kindergarten/school attendance and health services usage, and more generally to “reduce poverty and improve human development outcomes for children”.[40]

A school lunch programme in Thailand, like that in the Philippines, is directed at children with nutritional challenges and consists of lunch and milk.[41] Most of the school meal programmes are school-based – this highlights the additional distress resulting for low-income families from the school closures in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic.[42]

The high-income ASEAN countries, Brunei and Singapore, also have provisions directed at children. Brunei has an education allowance for disadvantaged children (Leisering 2019 p. 169).[43] In Singapore, the Government’s Early Childhood Development Agency provides subsidies for infant and childcare and for kindergarten and school fees for children from low- or middle-income families.[44] Moreover, education costs or costs for after-school care subsidised for Singapore citizens, from  primary to pre-university level, in the form of means-tested benefits.[45]

Only three of the recorded regularised[46] programmes in the ASEAN region, however, address infants and toddlers. The rationale for such programmes is generally that adequate nutrition during the first two to three years of a child’s life are determinants for their health and possibly for education outcomes throughout their entire lives. One programme is Thailand’s child support grant for children under three. However, the grant is limited to very low-income households (per capita less than THB 3,000 a month).[47] Vietnam’s pertaining programme is for orphaned and abandoned children from birth until age 16, single persons taking care of small children, and families adopting children.[48] Singapore also offers a child development co-savings scheme, nicknamed “baby bonus”, which has a different objective: it is designed to encourage families to have children by contributing to the child’s health and education costs.[49]

With regard to gender-based disadvantages, the programmes mentioned above appear little attuned to this issue. The National School Meals programme in Laos is the only one that includes gender in the eligibility criteria. In the Philippines, there is also a gender incentive grant (ASEAN 2016a, p. 165 f). 

  • Programmes addressing migration

For the situation of work migrants, two provisions are key. One is their access to social protection within the country of work, and another is the portability of social protection entitlements. Globally one in 5 migrants are not covered by portability, and less than 1% of migrants moving between low-income countries is covered (van Panhuys et al, 2017). This is because of legal constraints in country of origin and destination, and because informal economy workers and undocumented migrants are often excluded. 

The pertaining landscape in the ASEAN-10 is mixed. For example, payments into the pension provident funds of Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore can be carried, and there is no minimum years of contribution. The Philippines and Thailand provide no restriction of access. In Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam, a minimum period of contribution of 5–15 years to the social insurance system is required to carry the entitlement upon return. Indonesia and Malaysia allow voluntary contributions of foreign workers to the provident fund scheme, while Brunei Darussalam and Singapore only allow access to nationals and permanent residents (Pasadilla and Abella 2012). 

Thailand features a scheme whereby all Thai nationals have access to universal health care, as mentioned above, and in addition, all registered migrants can, in theory, join the health insurance scheme for a registration fee (Harkins 2015; Tangcharoensathien et al 2017) which is however very costly related to average wages. [50]

  • Addressing other vulnerabilities 

With regard to other vulnerabilities, notably those resulting from natural disasters or political conflicts, easily accessible information on social protection measures or programmes is lacking. As mentioned above, the Philippines “4Ps programme” includes provisions for displaced people;[51] however information on the modalities or its current coverage is not available.[52]

  • Outlook: engaging players to deepen and transcend existing commitments

Social protection is not a panacea. Of its own it cannot overcome income poverty, social exclusion, and other inequities, as it does not tackle their root causes – even if the benefit levels were such that recipients are lifted above the poverty line. Social protection therefore needs to be complemented by many other policy realms and efforts (Koehler 2017). 

Perhaps most centrally, abolishing poverty and tackling processes of social exclusion requires legislation and incentives for decent work – defined as employment creation, the right to social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue (ILO n.y.(b)). These have shaped SDG  8 of the UN 2030 Agenda.  

At the same time, often ignored in dedicated social protection discussions, is the requirement of social services infrastructure, which is a necessary pre-condition for overcoming the gendered division of care work. This would encompass free or easily affordable modalities for care provision, such as nurseries, kindergartens, establishments or arrangements for care for the elderly, people living with a disability; clinics for health care, etc. It also would need to include the mobility and energy infrastructure that makes such services or establishments accessible (Chopra 2018; UN Women 2018). Counselling and social work need to accompany grant programmes.[53] Only if social, psychosocial and economic infrastructure is in place, can cash transfers actually lead to an improved situation for individuals and households. The ASEAN Declaration (2018 p. 5) in fact does make reference to services in its remit.

Fiscal policy must obviously prioritise social expenditures and accord them a much larger share in the government’s federal and local budgets. This needs to respect expenditures for health services, education, social infrastructure, labour market policies as well as  social protection transfers as such. This is where a social contract (Gough 2004) has a key role to play. Instruments such as gender or child budgeting can be a transparent method to ensure the political will for social protection, and serve as a monitoring instrument. Again, the ASEAN Declaration (2018 p. 5) commits to provide adequate financial resources …  in line with national targets” but makes this “subject to the capacity of each Government” which then relegates social protection finance to political dynamics. 


Finally, the most fundamental approach to overcome income inequalities is agency and empowerment. The ASEAN Declaration (2018) makes commits to human rights, social solidarity, and gender equality – a promise which still awaits realisation. [54]Useful complements to social protection policies lie, for example, with instruments of affirmative action and right to information, which in other regions are encoded in legislation. This facilitates transparency and can make it easier for citizens to claim their rights (Sepulveda 2017).

In countries that do not honour human rights, cash transfers may flow, social security may be in place, but universalised, rights-based social protection in the true sense, as a constituent component of a democratically negotiated and transparently monitored social contract, still have a long way to go, throughout all the ASEAN-10 member countries. 

A series of recommendations appear to flow from this assessment:

  • Messages to governments

One handle to furthering social protection comes from the angle of international law. As UN member states, the ASEAN countries support the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Agenda 2030.  All have acceded to the CEDAW and CRC, and seven[55] have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The periodic reports of latter contain recommendations to governments which cover social protection.

Surprisingly, however, none of the ASEAN-10 has ratified any of the ILO Conventions pertaining to social protection, most centrally C102 on social security. Other Covenants and Compacts also require immediate attention. The core labour conventions have not been ratified in all the countries.[56] It would also be useful to ratify the ILO Conventions on Domestic Work (C189)[57] and on Homework (C177) which would introduce social protection for domestic workers and for workers in global production chains; as well as the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, the UN Compact on Migration, and the UN Compact on Refugees which each include provisions for social protection. The ratification process is an effective way to sensitise all ministries, the cabinet, the parliament itself,  and the media, to the rights contained in the respective convention. Moreover, once ratified, civil society has a legal anchor from which to claim these rights.

In addition, focus needs to remain on the implementation and improvement of existing social protection, and for extending coverage. The ASEAN-10 could extend statutory  social insurance so as the universalise coverage. They could also deepen social assistance-type transfers to socially excluded groups. For this, considerable political will is needed, and the necessary fiscal allocations need to be guaranteed.

  • Messages to trade unions

Globally, trade union density has decreased in recent years. In many of the ASEAN-10, the informal economy predominates, where the right to organise and processes of collective bargaining do not function, and independent trade unions are weak if at all existent. ILO C 204 on transitioning from the informal to the formal economy[58] could therefore be one process to look into urgently. The lack of worker representation has a direct bearing on the expansion, quality and reliable delivery of social protection, especially social insurance, and ratification of core labour conventions of the ILO would be important.[59]

  • Messages to civil society

The ASEAN commitments, notably the ASEAN Charter, the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration and the ASEAN Social Protection Declaration commit to reducing inequality and to providing access to social protection as a basic human right. Civil society in the ten ASEAN countries can make use of these commitments both for negotiations, and for pressure. For this however, democratic representation by civil society, and the voice and agency of society itself,  needs to be (re)instated.[60] It can be productive to refer to the findings and recommendations of Human Rights Council processes, such as Universal Periodic Reviews,[61] CEDAW and CRC, and primarily the periodic reports and shadow reports submitted to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights under the ICESCR, where ratified. This can help create strong momentum for social protection. 

  • Messages to the academic community

Evidence-based analysis of policies, their effectiveness and inclusiveness is a prerequisite for negotiations regarding the expansion, deepening and universalisation of social protection. It is necessary to fill knowledge gaps. For example, despite the efforts of statistical offices and multilateral agencies, comparable data across the ASEAN-10 is patchy for sensitive issues on which to base policies – poverty and income distribution data is a case in point.

The ethnic and language diversity in the ASEAN member countries are barriers to accessing and utilising research findings, so it would be useful to ensure that analysis is available in most local languages. In addition, academia can provide policy briefs to support policy makers as well as civil society in their respective areas of decision making or advocacy.

Such efforts would be very supportive for furthering social protection across the ASEAN countries, and also assist the ASEAN Secretariat in its work.

  • Messages to media

Last not least, media – both public and social media – have a role that is often underestimated. Comprehensive and continuous media coverage of social protection programmes, their performance, of emerging ideas, pilots and new schemes, and of shortcomings or failures, can play a key role and create transformative pressure for the agenda of universalising and deepening social protection for all.

To conclude:  it is important to stress that, although the case for social protection is affirmed in the ASEAN Declaration on Strengthening Social Protection, “the fundamental human right to social security remains only partially fulfilled for the large majority in the region.” (ILO 2015, executive summary). 

References

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Annex Tables

Table 1: ASEAN member states: Democracy index

 Democracy index
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia3,53
Indonesia6,48
Lao PDR2,14
Malaysia7,16
Myanmar3,55
Philippines6,64
Singapore6,02
Thailand6,32
Viet Nam 3,08

Notes: 

Index values above 8.0 denote full democracy; below 8.0 flawed democracy; below 4.0 authoritarian regime.

Source: 

EIU Democracy Index 2019. A year of democratic setbacks and popular protest. https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=democracyindex2019

Table 2: ASEAN member states: Poverty and income distribution

People living on less than $2 per day (PPP)YearGini indexYear
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia49,54200936,032009
Indonesia43,33201138,142011
Lao PDR66200836,742008
Malaysia12,27200946,22009
Myanmar222017
Philippines41,53200942,982009
Singapore 42,51998
Thailand14,05201039,372010
Viet Nam43,36200835,572008

Notes:

… not available.

Actual values are less than 2.0% and should be treated with caution.

2 Proportion of Population below $1.90 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) a Day. 

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table A.11.

https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/601126/basic-statistics-2020.xlsx

Table 3: ASEAN member states: SDG 1.3.1 “Effective coverage”

Population covered (in at least one area) 1People covered by social protection systems and floors
Children2Mothers and newborns3Persons with severe disabilities4Unemployed5Older persons6, 8Vulnerable groups7
Brunei Darussalam81,70
Cambodia0,683,18
Indonesia 14,00
Lao PDR5,60
Malaysia19,80
Myanmar0,680,37
Philippines47,0913,659,023,1039,807,77
Singapore18,9035,7243,2079,70
Thailand30,7121,2989,70
Viet Nam37,9044,529,7545,0139,909,97

Notes:

1 The proportion of the population protected in at least one area (SDG indicator 1.3.1 (a): Proportion of the total population receiving benefits at least under one of the contingencies (contributory or non-contributory benefit) or actively contributing to at least one social security scheme.

2 Proportion of children covered by social protection benefits: Ratio of children/households receiving children benefits to the total number of children/households with children.

3 Proportion of women giving birth covered by maternity benefits: Ratio of women receiving maternity benefits to women giving birth in the same year (estimated based on age-specific fertility rates published in the UN World Population Prospects or on the number of live births corrected by the share of twin and triplet births). 

4 Proportion of persons with disabilities receiving benefits: Ratio of persons receiving disability benefits to persons with severe disabilities. The latter is calculated as the product of prevalence of disability ratios (published for each country group by the World Health Organization) and each country’s population.

5 Proportion of unemployed receiving benefits: Ratio of recipients of unemployment benefits to the number of unemployed persons.

6 Proportion of older persons receiving a pension: Ratio of persons above statutory retirement age receiving an old-age pension to persons above statutory retirement age (including contributory and non-contributory).

7 Proportion of vulnerable persons receiving benefits: ratio of social assistance recipients to the total number of vulnerable persons. The latter are calculated by subtracting from total population all people in working age contributing to a social insurance scheme or receiving contributory benefits and all persons above retirement age receiving contributory benefits. 

8 OECD countries have survivors included under old-age pensions.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.3. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54610

Table 4: ASEAN member states: Public social protection expenditure

Total public social protection expenditure (% of GDP)
20002010Latest available yearYear
Brunei Darussalam3,292,312011
Cambodia1,050,611,192013
Indonesia1,79710,951,132015
Lao PDR1,670,681,202013
Malaysia2,403,443,772012
Myanmar0,490,962011
Philippines21,091,592,202015
Singapore1,582,304,162015
Thailand2,572,713,692015
Viet Nam4,064,586,332015

Notes:

1 Year: 1999.

2 The expenditure on social protection and health refers only to the central government sector.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.16. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54614

Table 5: ASEAN member states: Maternity coverage

 Length of maternity leave (weeks)Percentage of wages paid during covered periodMothers with newborns receiving cash benefit, 2015
Brunei Darussalam 8 (+1 unpaid)1002
Cambodia1350
Indonesia13100
Lao PDR15a1003
Malaysia8,6100
Myanmar14701,40,7
Philippines8,6a10059,0
Singapore161002,6
Thailand13100, 502,7
Viet Nam26b100844,5

Notes:

a Maternity leave is extended in case of complications arising from pregnancy or childbirth. 

b Maternity leave is extended in case of multiple births.

1 Up to a ceiling. 

2 Brunei Darussalam. Cash maternity benefits are an employer liability. There is an employment-related programme that offers cash benefits for people registered with the Employees’ Trust Fund. Under this programme, 100% of the gross monthly wage is paid for 13 weeks (the employer pays the first eight weeks; the Government pays the next five weeks, and the employee is entitled to two additional weeks of unpaid leave). 

3 Lao, PDR. In addition, a birth grant is paid consisting of a lump sum of 60% of the insured’s average monthly insured earnings in the six months before birth. 

4 Myanmar. Employees are also entitled to a maternity grant in the form of a lump sum benefit amounting to 50% of the monthly wage for a single birth; 75% for twins; or 100% for triplets or more.

5 Philippines. The benefit is 100% of the insured’s average daily covered earnings. Daily covered earnings are the sum of the six highest months of covered earnings in the 12 months before the six-month period (January-June, April-September, July-December, or October-March) in which the birth or miscarriage occurred, divided by 180. The benefit is paid for up to four births.

6 Singapore. The first eight weeks paid by employer, the second eight weeks funded by the Government up to a ceiling. For the third and subsequent births, the full 16 weeks will be funded by the Government up to a ceiling.

7 Thailand. 100% for the first 45 days (employer); 50% for the last 45 days (social insurance).  The benefit is paid for up to two births. Under the Labour Protection Act, an employer is required to pay an employee for up to 45 days of maternity leave. A new voluntary social security system for informal sector workers was initiated in 2011. In addition, a childbirth grant is paid to formal sector workers; the benefit is a lump sum of THB 13,000 for each birth.

8 Viet Nam. In addition, a birth grant is paid, which consists of a lump sum of two times the minimum wage for civil servants for each child born or for each adopted child younger than four months (rising to six months on 1 January 2016). When only the father is covered by social insurance, he is entitled to a lump-sum allowance of two times the monthly minimum wage for civil servants for each child in the month of the birth.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.5. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54605

Table 6: ASEAN member states: Old age pensions

   Estimate of legal coverage for old age as a percentage of the working-age population
Total Contributory mandatoryContributory voluntaryNon- contributory
TotalWomenTotalWomenTotalWomenTotalWomen
Brunei Darussalam10010062,550,63,22,0100100
Cambodia 20,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,0
Indonesia 3,469,7 65,9 3,8 0,00,0
Lao PDR80,585,813,813,866,772,00,00,0
Malaysia 510010048,638,114,513,236,948,6
Myanmar
Philippines10010057,543,742,556,3
Singapore10010065,462,034,638,0
Thailand 6,710010036,332,238,937,9100100
Viet Nam 810010033,127,666,972,466,972,4

Notes: 

a Detailed notes and definition available at: http://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?ressource.ressourceId=54606

2 Cambodia. Only public servants receive a pension. The legal retirement age is 60 for category A, 58 for category B and 55 for categories C and D. Civil servants receive a monthly pension equal to 80% of their net basic salary when they have accomplished at least 30 years of service; and 60% of their net basic salary when they have at least 20 years but under 30 years of service by the age of retirement. Those who have completed more than 20 years of service receive a proportional annual supplementary pension of 2% of their net salary. The total amount does not exceed 80% of the seniority pension and is not lower than basic monthly salary. Civil servants who have reached the retirement age and have less than 20 years of service will have no pension and receive only a lump sum allowance, equally to eight total monthly salaries. The scheme is fully funded from the national budget. A pension scheme for workers in the private sector is yet to be implemented. 

3 Indonesia. The defined benefit (DB) pension scheme (social insurance for private-sector workers) entered into effect on 1 July 2015, with the enactments of the Law on National Social Security System (Sistem Jaminan Sosial Nasional or SJSN) (No. 40/2004); then the Law on Social Security Implementing Agency (Badan Penyelenggara Jaminan Sosial or BPJS) (No. 24/2011) and government regulation on pension programme (No.45/2015).

4 Indonesia. Coverage rates are calculated with proxy data for number of workers, not exact value.

5 Malaysia. The social insurance scheme is only for civil servants.

6 Thailand. A new voluntary social security system for informal sector workers was initiated in 2011. The scheme is based on contributions from workers and the Government to finance old-age, disability, survivors’, sickness and maternity benefits.

7 Thailand. The Government’s contribution to the informal sector pension depends on the insured person’s age: 50% of the insured’s contributions if younger than age 30; 80% if aged 30 to 49; and 100% if aged 50 or older.

8 Viet Nam. Subsidies as necessary and the total cost of old-age pensions for workers who retired before 1995; contributions for those employed in the public sector and retired before January 1995. From 1 January 2018, the Government will start subsidizing the voluntary contribution (Decree No. 134/2015/ND-CP of 29 December 2015).         

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.9. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54606

Table 7: ASEAN member states: Non-contributory pension schemes

 Year introducedName of schemeLevel of benefit in % of minimum wage bNumber of recipientsEffective coverage (number, %) population 60 and overYearCost (% of GDP)Year
Brunei Darussalam1984Old-Age Pensionn.a.27.166,090,920140,42014
Cambodia
Indonesia2006Asistensi Sosial Usia Lanjut (ASLUT) (Social Assistance for Older Persons) 11,226.500,00,120130,02013
Lao PDR
Malaysia1982Bantuan Orang Tua (Elderly Assistance Scheme)30.0 –
32.6 
120.496,05,520100,12010
Myanmar
Philippines2011Social Pension Scheme101.8 -110.1 2.800.000,035,420170,12017
Singapore2015Silver Support Scheme
Thailand1993Old Age Allowance7.7 –
12.8 
8.048.298,071,820160,52016
Viet Nam 2004Social assistance benefit (category 1:  80 years old and over)15.4-22.5 1.350.226,014,720140,12016
 2004Social assistance benefit (category 2: 60–79 years old)11.6 –
16.9
207.421,02,320140,02016

Notes:

 n.a. Not applicable

… Not available

a As defined in United Nations Security Council Resolution No. 1244 of 1999.

b For the countries where the national minimum wage varies according to region and/or sector of economy, an interval was considered.

Source: ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.10. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54607

Table 8: ASEAN member states: Injury benefits

Estimate of legal employment injury coverage as % of the labour force
Mandatory coverageVoluntary coverageLatest available year a
Brunei Darussalam85,30,02014
Cambodia15,30,02016
Indonesia 93,80,02015
Lao PDR6,70,02013
Malaysia71,60,02015
Myanmar38,261,02015
Philippines55,50,02015
Singapore72,90,02014
Thailand41,00,02014
Viet Nam38,50,02015

Notes: 

Datasets and reports from national labour force surveys or other household or establishment surveys for the latest available year or ILO modelled estimates for 2015.

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.7. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54604

Table 9: ASEAN member states: Unemployment benefits, latest available year

 Percentage of unemployed receiving unemployment benefits a 
 Contributory schemes Non-contributory schemesContributory and non-contributory schemesMaleFemaleLatest Year
Brunei Darussalamn.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Cambodia 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Indonesia 2,3n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Lao PDR 6n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Malaysia 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Myanmar 4n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Philippines 2n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Singapore 5n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a.n.a. 
Thailand 143,2043,22015
Viet Nam 14504535,356,72015

Notes:

n.a. Not applicable.

a Unemployed beneficiaries of general social assistance schemes are not included due to unavailability of data. Including them would increase coverage rates but only in countries where such schemes exist on a larger scale (high-income and some middle-income countries).

Data repository: ILO World Social Protection Database, based on the Social Security Inquiry (SSI) [June 2017].

2 In the absence of social security benefit in case of unemployment, workers covered by the labour law may be entitled to a severance payment, usually on the basis of a minimum length of service and/or the reason for the termination of the employment relation, sometimes depending on professional categories, size of enterprise or other criteria. A severance payment is a lump sum. Forty-eight countries without an unemployment benefit programme anchored in legislation provide such labour protection (information available in the ILO Employment Protection Legislation Database (EPLex) and in ISSA and SSA, Social security programs throughout the world).

3 Indonesia. The labour law (Law No.13/2003) mandates a severance payment in case of employment termination (amount between 1 and 8 months of salary depending on the duration of employment).

4 Myanmar. Myanmar enacted its social security law in 2012. The law includes unemployment insurance benefit (section 37), but the unemployment benefit has not yet been implemented. 

5 Singapore. No programme anchored in legislation. The Workfare Training Support Scheme provides subsidized employment training, including a training allowance of up to SGD 4.50 an hour of training completed, to persons who qualify for the Workfare Income Support Scheme.

6 Lao, PDR. Social insurance was implemented in 2016.

Source:

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.6. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54603

Table 10: ASEAN member states: Disability coverage, latest available year

  Effective coverage (%) aLatest available 
year
Brunei Darussalam
Cambodia0,72015
Indonesia
Lao PDR
Malaysia
Myanmar0,42015
Philippines3,12015
Singapore
Thailand 135,72015
Viet Nam9,72015

Notes:

… Not available.

a Effective coverage of persons with severe disabilities: detailed methodology is in Annex II.

1 Thailand. In addition, a lump-sum disability benefit is provided through the national savings fund, a voluntary scheme for self-employed persons working in the informal economy.

Source: 

ILO 2017. World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO PLUS. Table B.8. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54782

Table 11: ASEAN member states: Population with household expenditures on health greater than 10% 

TotalUrbanRuralYear
Bruneil Darussalam
Cambodia15,278,1117,242014
Indonesia 2,712,822,582018
Lao PDR2,983,332,842007
Malaysia0,740,880,492004
Myanmar14,3613,1814,832015
Philippines6,312015
Singapore9,012012
Thailand2,222,412,072017
Viet Nam9,399,149,511016

Notes:

… Not available.

Source: 

WHO Global Health Observatory. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators


[1] See Annex table 1. The EIU Democracy Index assesses countries on the basis of 5 indicators: electoral process and pluralism, functioning of government, political participation, political culture and civil liberties. https://www.eiu.com/public/topical_report.aspx?campaignid=democracyindex2019. Another indicator is available from CIVICUS which measures civic space. The assessment for the individual ASEAN countries ranges from ‘obstructed’, to ‘repressed’, to ‘closed’.  https://monitor.civicus.org

[2] For poverty and Gini coefficient data see Annex Table 2. Data on income poverty appear technically unreliable for Myanmar. No Gini data for Brunei. Data from ILO for latest available year, https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54779. Malaysia revised their national poverty line in July 2020, such that the national poverty rate stands at 5.6% (2019), instead of the 0.4% calculated using a previous methodology. Over 400 000 households live under this poverty line (Lim (2020)).

[3] See Annex Table 2. 

[4] See ILO status of ratifications of C102. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312247:NO

[5] See Annex Table 3 on effective coverage.  https://www.social protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54610

[6] Excluding Brunei, for which data n.a.

[7] As a comparator: the overall spending at country level ranges  from 21.1% of aggregate GDP in Japan to 0.1% in Myanmar, while expenditure for each intended beneficiary as a share of GDP per capita averaged 4.0%.  ADB 2019, p. 6.

[8] Also see Annex table 4 https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54614 which shows Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam all devoting more than 2% of GDP to total public social protection expenditure.

[9] Again, without data on Brunei.

[10] The child-related programmes are discussed below.

[11] See Annex table 5. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54605

[12] See Annex table 6. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54606

[13] See Annex table 7. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54607

[14] See Annex table 8 https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54604

[15] See Annex table 9. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54603´

[16] See Annex table 10. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourceDownload.action?id=54782

[17] Participants pay an annual fee which then gives access to health services at public hospitals. The system is organised with a unique identification number for each participant, which can be cross-referenced with the country’s other health care systems. For details and an evaluation see Sumriddetchkajorn et al (2019).

[18] IPC-IG and UNICEF (2019) p. 177.

[19] Annex table 11. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators

[20] For a discussion on country-level challenges see ASEAN 2016b.

[21] It derives from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Agenda 2030 and other multilateral documents, as well as from the ASEAN Declaration (2018). For a critical history, see Leisering 2019, p. 268 ff.

[22] As illustrated in Annex table 3. 

[23] The pension received is 40 per cent or less of the prior wage incomes (ILO 2015, p. 42). 

[24] United Nations (no year) Time use statistics. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/gender/timeuse/index.html. Also see UN Women 2018. P 219ff.

[25] For an example see ASEAN 2016 p. 72 f, describing Indonesia’s programme for female-headed households, Women Head of Family Empowerment (Pemberdayaan Perempuan Kepala Keluarga (PEKKA)).

[26] Trafficking, slavery and forced labour are a major threat to these migrant workers. The scope of this paper does not allow a discussion of this issue, but obviously having rights to social protection in place in each country would be one of many measures to tackle slavery, e.g. in terms of people not being forced by acute poverty to fall prey to trafficking. See IOM (2020). P. 9. On the particular risks women face when displaced, e.g. in the context of disasters, see IOM (2020) p. 264.

[27] Generally, school meal programmes that are universal are preferable, since “targeted” programmes addressed to sub-groups within the school can easily have a stigmatising effect, by singling out the disadvantaged students. One approach to circumvent this can be to provide coverage to all children in all schools in a designated geographical area.

[28] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. Page 53 f.

[29] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 55.

[30] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 86 f.

[31] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019.  P. 88 f.

[32] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 90.

[33] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 94 f.

[34] Chin, Kachin, Magway, Rakhine, Shan, Wa, Kayin, Kayah, Mon and Sagaing.

[35] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 118.

[36] Government of the Philippines (no year). Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program

 Official Gazette. https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/programs/conditional-cash-transfer/

[37] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 158.

[38] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 188 f.

[39] Hà Giang, Quảng Nam, Trà Vinh and Lâm Ðồng provinces 

[40] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 186

[41] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 175.

[42] In a few countries or states, school meal rations were delivered to the students’ homes: Kerala in India was an example. Information whether this happened in the ASEAN region needs to be compiled.

[43] No other source found on this.

[44] https://www.ecda.gov.sg/Pages/Subsidies-and-Financial-Assistance.aspx#CCICS

[45] https://www.gov.sg/article/financial-support-for-singaporean-students-at-every-stage-of-education

[46] Myanmar’s mother and child 1000 days grant is a pilot scheme.

[47] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 175.

[48] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 180.

[49]https://www.babybonus.msf.gov.sg/parent/web/about?_afrLoop=35208443470029345&_afrWindowMode=0&_afrWindowId=11kn43u60d_1#%40%3F_afrWindowId%3D11kn43u60d_1%26_afrLoop%3D35208443470029345%26_afrWindowMode%3D0%26_adf.ctrl-state%3D11kn43u60d_17

[50] Also see ASEAN 2016, p. 161 f. on programme for returning migrants in the Philippines which includes a form of time-bound social assistance.

[51] IPC-IG and UNICEF. 2019. P. 154.

[52] My research may have missed pertaining literature.

[53] Myanmar in its social protection strategic plan of 2014 included access to case work support and the training of skilled social workers. https://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/RessourcePDF.action?ressource.ressourceId=50377

[54] The full text reads: “Implementation of social protection should be based on respect for fundamental freedoms, promotion and 
protection of human rights, promotion of social justice, social solidarity, non-discrimination, accessibility, reasonable accommodation, gender equality, social inclusiveness, coherence, and accountability (ASEAN declaration 2018, p.3). 

[55] Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. See OHCHR https://indicators.ohchr.org

[56] For example, C087 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise has only been ratified by four countries (Cambodia Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines). https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312232:NO.  C098 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining has been ratified by Cambodia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=NORMLEXPUB:11300:0::NO:11300:P11300_INSTRUMENT_ID:312243:NO.

[57] The Philippines has national legislation (Act Instituting Policies for the Protection and Welfare of Domestic Workers) and ratified ILO Convention 189 in 2011. ASEAN 2016, p.145

[58] https://www.ilo.org/ilc/ILCSessions/previous-sessions/104/texts-adopted/WCMS_377774/lang–en/index.htm

[59] See footnote 55 above.

[60] See footnote 2.

[61] All ten countries have submitted such reports. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/Documentation.aspx

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