The COVID-19 crisis is increasing pressure on social protection systems around the world

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Government measures against the coronavirus, in particular national confinements, have sometimes suspended the mechanisms of the market economy. Through no fault of their own, many people found themselves without work or income overnight. A research team from the Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy has investigated how successfully social law has helped secure livelihoods during the pandemic. In collaboration with jurists from around the world, 21 countries on five continents were examined, including Germany, Sweden, China, Australia, Brazil, South Africa and Russia.

The book “Protecting Livelihoods—A Global Comparison of Social Law Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis”, which is available in open access, presents the first systematic legal analysis of the particular social protection dimension of responses to the crisis around the world. It outlines whether and how social law measures taken during the pandemic corresponded with existing welfare state systems, as well as the particular challenges countries faced in implementing their response to the crisis. The study also explores how the relationship between collective risk and individual responsibility was negotiated during the crisis and whether long-term changes for each welfare state can be expected from the experiences of the pandemic.

Despite their very different social protection systems, the countries studied have responded to the pandemic with similar measures, most of which have been financed by taxes. In particular, wage replacement allowances and short-time work schemes have made it possible to preserve a large number of jobs and stabilize employees’ incomes. Businesses have been helped with low-interest loans, loan guarantees and deferred payment of taxes, social security contributions and debts in general.

Pandemic response measures have posed a particular threat to the livelihoods of non-standard workers, including, among others, those in the informal sector and platform workers. The self-employed have also often fallen through the cracks. In particular, welfare states with traditional social insurance systems were not equipped to adequately integrate these into the existing regulatory framework. The particular support for the self-employed required in this context has broken with the logic of entrepreneurial self-responsibility which dominates the market economy. Collective responsibility and social solidarity have taken their place.

In all the countries studied, the pandemic acts as a magnifying glass that clearly reveals the strengths and weaknesses of social protection systems, especially since the responses to the pandemic have not produced significant changes in their structures. Thus, the crisis has increased pressure on many countries to reform their social protection systems to better meet current and future demands.

Among care organisations, day centers have been the hardest hit by the COVID crisis

More information:
Becker, Ulrich/Seemann, Anika (ed.): Protecting Livelihoods—A Global Comparison of Social Law Responses to the COVID-19 Crisis. DOI: 10.5771/9783748932819

Provided by Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik

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