Societal Challenges

Fulfilling the promise of the
social contract

Dec 5, 2016
By Rosemary Lane

While old age pensions are written into many laws as a fundamental right, in too many regions and countries that right is not adequately secured. Let’s work to ensure that the right to financial security in people’s later years is robust and reliable all over the globe.

The problem

The right to financial support in our elder years is enshrined in various human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Yet according to the recent International Labour Office (ILO) World Social Protection Report 2014/15, only 5.15% of older persons in the world received an old age pension between 2010 and 2012.

There are significant discrepancies in pension coverage in developing countries—from a high of 56.1% in Latin America to low of 16.9% in Sub Saharan Africa. While just under a half of older persons worldwide receive a pension of some kind, many of these fall short of providing income security. More worryingly is that only 42% of today’s working population may expect to receive a pension in the future. In the 2015 AARP publication, High Anxiety, it is reported that “Significant numbers of New York Gen Xers and Boomers do not have access to retirement savings plans at work and are not contributing to any retirement savings account.” Further “In both cohorts, a majority feels anxious about being able to have a comfortable retirement if they are able to retire at all.” With these facts in hand, how do we begin to discuss “unlocking the longevity dividend”?

The solution

As agreed in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015 by all governments:

    1. Implement “Social protection systems and measures for all, including floors”, through a combination of contributory and non-contributory schemes for formal and informal workers through a commitment led by Governments to launch social protection systems and/or ensure sustainability of current systems.
    2. Ensure health at older ages—extend life expectancies through lifelong access to universal health coverage and appropriate care by reorientation of health systems to ensure lifelong health through preventive measures and adapting systems to deal with the rise in non-communicable diseases and ensure full access to all.
    3. Productive and decent work—provide decent minimum wages, work against age discrimination and ageist assumptions about older workers.

Fulfilling the promise of the social contract

Hear Rosemary Lane speak about old age pensions which are written into many laws as a fundamental right, but in too many regions and countries that right is not adequately secured.

Rosemary Lane, Senior Social Affairs Officer, United Nations

About the author

Rosemary Lane
Senior Social Affairs Officer United Nations

Rosemary Lane has a background in social policy and development. She has worked extensively on the issue of ageing, having been a member of the team that drafted the first Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2002. She has undertaken research, contributed to publications and reports for intergovernmental bodies and written articles in this field.

Lane has worked with governments in North, East and West Africa, the Caribbean, and Central Asia in carrying out needs assessments, running training workshops and drafting national policies and programmes on ageing. She holds an MA in Social Policy from the State University of New York (1999).