OECD Social Policy Forum: The Future of Social Policy


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

14 May 2018 - Montreal, Canada

(As prepared for delivery)



Elder Ka'nahsohon Kevin Deer, Minister Duclos, Ministers, honoured guests,

Welcome to the OECD-Canada Social Policy Forum. I’m grateful to our host, Minister Jean-Yves Duclos for welcoming us to the beautiful city of Montréal.


This meeting comes at a critical juncture for social policy. The crisis has left deep social wounds in many of our countries. There is a widespread feeling that globalisation has left many behind even as the digital economy is triggering new dynamics and challenges with great social implications.


The momentum is ripe for collective action on defining the future of social policy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already made important steps in this direction by his intention to put “Growth that Works for All” at the forefront of the G7 agenda. Let’s take a cue from this important commitment and follow suit.


Fast-paced changes are creating social opportunities and challenges

Our economies and societies are increasingly faced with shifts progressing at unprecedented speed. Digitalisation, globalisation, and demographic changes are re-shaping the world of work: what kind of work is done, and where, how and by whom it is carried out.


These rapid changes are creating opportunities. For those with the right skills, in the right place and with the required agility and mobility, the world of work is being transformed to their advantage. But for the others, change can be synonymous with disruption and give rise to significant challenges.


OECD work shows that about 14% of jobs in OECD countries are highly automatable, based on the tasks involved, and another 32% of jobs will likely change substantially. Digital technologies have also given rise to the “platform economy” and new forms of work, with gig jobs offered by freelancing, ride-sharing or food delivery apps. 10 years ago these platforms didn’t exist, and yet who has not used such an app today?


These changes are testing traditional models of social policy. In many countries, “crowd” and "gig" workers are not covered or only partially covered by social protection,. They have little income security if they lose their work, fall ill, or when they retire. The self-employed, who represent nearly 16% of workers in OECD countries or those on a temporary contract, 13% of all employees, already face such challenges.


Unstable working conditions and careers are contributing to a growing sense of insecurity and status anxiety, building on and fuelling other long standing challenges. Rising income and wealth inequalities, declining social mobility and cross-border challenges such as refugee and migration flows are eroding people’s confidence that these uncharted waters can be safely navigated.


Focusing on people-centred social policies

In order to address these challenges and these fears we need to focus on people and on what keeps them awake at night; we need to empower them with the skills, confidence and security to seize new opportunities; we need to encourage them to embrace, rather than reject, change.


So how do we do this? Let’s start by listening. Listening to what people think, fear, expect, and aspire to. Listening to what they think works well and what doesn’t. Listening to their ideas for change. As the trailer of the film ‘Babel’ claimed: “If you want to be understood, listen”.


That’s what we did! To begin this conversation, the OECD ran a new survey called "Risks that Matter" in 19 OECD countries. We asked people about their perceptions of the social and economic risks they face, how well they think government addresses them, and what policies they would wish for.


You will hear more about this in a few minutes from Gabriela Ramos and from a video. But let me share some highlights. In all countries, people’s greatest worries are about how to make ends meet, and what will happen to them if they fall ill. Above all else – and already at younger ages – they're worried about their financial security in old age.


People have high expectations from social policy and in the majority of countries they feel that the government does not incorporate their views when designing or reforming public benefits. In particular, in every country surveyed, respondents were most likely to say that the government should be doing more to ensure their economic security.


This is a wake-up call for all of us, and this Forum and Ministerial Meeting on Social Policy are important opportunities to chart more responsive social policies. This has to be a concerted effort so I encourage you to share your experiences and best practices, your expectations and unique ideas on how best to listen, on how to close the social protection gaps, and on how to leverage the exciting new possibilities of technology or the potential of partnerships and social enterprises, especially at the local level.


At the OECD, we are focusing on developing evidence to help countries adapt their labour markets, policies and institutions. Identifying and sharing best practices is another cornerstone of our work and a building block of multilateral decision making. Just in two weeks’ time our 2018 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) will discuss how to reshape multilateralism in a way that delivers inclusive outcomes for all. Our experiences here in Montreal will also provide important food for thought for our MCM, where we will be launching the Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth, a new tool that governments can use to build more inclusive economies and societies. 


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is high time to rekindle our social compacts. It is high time to empower people by providing them the tools to succeed and the safety nets to protect themselves, if at first they don’t succeed. We should empower them to try, try again.


The sustainability and inclusiveness of our economies and societies hinge on effective social policies. It is something that we must get right and that we must ensure is rooted in morality, fairness and equality.


I look forward to your inspiring and bold ideas. The OECD is ready to work with you and for you to design, develop and deliver better social policies for better lives.

Thank you



See also:

OECD work on Social and Welfare issues

OECD work on Going Digital Project

OECD work on Inclusive Growth

OECD work with Canada




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