OECD Social Policy Ministerial Meeting: Social Policy for Shared Prosperity: Embracing the Future


Opening Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

15 May 2018 - Montreal, Canada

(As prepared for delivery)



Minister Duclos, Ministers, Vice-Chairs, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to open the OECD’s 2018 Social Policy Ministerial Meeting.


Let me begin by thanking Minister Duclos for chairing this meeting and our co-vice chairs ─ Minister Achtsioglou (Greece), Minister Vieira da Silva (Portugal) and Minister Strandhall (Sweden) ─ who will lead this afternoon’s break-out sessions.


We are very pleased to have so many countries represented here today. Your presence speaks to the importance of social policies as an integral pillar of across Member and Partner countries.


The last time we met was in 2011, when many countries were looking for ways to reinforce social protection in the wake of the great recession. It’s amazing how much has changed since then. In 2011, unemployment across the OECD stood at 7.9%. It has now dropped to 5.5%.


We have also seen many pension reforms. Under legislation currently in place, by 2060 the normal retirement age will increase in roughly half of all OECD countries, by 1.5 years for men and 2.1 years for women on average.


We have seen progress in gender equality and an increase in LGBT rights. In the last five years, around two-thirds of OECD countries have introduced pay transparency measures. Marriage equality for same sex couples in many OECD countries has extended the social protections brought by marriage to all couples. Since the last Ministerial in 2011, the number of OECD countries permitting same sex marriage has doubled.


Today the more positive economic outlook provides us with the opportunity to keep reinforcing the model of growth to make it more inclusive, one where all can contribute and thus claim dividends on equal grounds. This comes at a time where we all need to engage with the fast-coming transformations of our economies and societies: globalisation, digitalisation and demographic changes are creating new opportunities for greater well-being, innovation and productivity, but they also call for significant adaptation of our policies, to make sure that change can be beneficial to all.


Social protection systems in OECD countries reflect the historic priorities of people and governments – which are deeply rooted in social, economic, and cultural traditions.


However, as the global economic environment evolves, the most effective social protection systems will be the ones that are able to adapt and respond to people’s short-term and long-term needs and ambitions.


Future-proofing social policy mainly means adapting to the rise in non-standard work and to changing skills needs in the labour market. Recent OECD research has found that around 14% of jobs in OECD countries are highly automatable, and another 32% of jobs could face substantial change in how they are carried out. The highest risk is concentrated in routine and often low wage jobs. And yet, alarmingly, OECD work shows that training is not working to offset these risks. According to the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), the low-skilled receive much less training than their more highly skilled counterparts: only 17% participated in training on average in a 12-month period.


On top of skills’ gaps, it’s also essential to close the big social protection coverage gaps which still exist in many countries. For example, a 2016 report by the European Commission found that 54.5% of the self-employed aged 15-64 were at risk of not being entitled to unemployment benefits.


Policymakers also need to address very different issues like the rising costs of housing, which can be crippling. On average nearly 15% of tenants and 10% of mortgage-payers spend over 40% of their disposable income on housing costs in OECD countries. This can be a huge source of anxiety for people, and it’s just one among many.


The OECD just conducted a population survey in 19 Member countries on “Risks that Matter”. Preliminary findings show that falling ill and making ends meet are the most common short-term concerns. Older people are especially concerned about illness and disability, while younger people are more likely to have concerns about their future prospects. For example, access to adequate housing is a top-three concern for 39% of 25 to 29 year-olds. And women are more likely than men to worry about making ends meet.


Population ageing is one of the defining challenges that we face in delivering more inclusive growth. Preventing ageing unequally is a key priority for the OECD, and we are looking particularly at how inequalities start early and build up over the life course. I am very pleased that we will have the opportunity to discuss all of these challenges today.


The good news is that you ministers have been very active in adapting and innovating in your social policies, and thus there is a lot to be learned from each other’s efforts. For example, some of you are testing more individualised forms of social support; this is the case of France with individual activity accounts and life-cycle training accounts, or of Denmark with portable pension accounts. Other countries are experimenting with universal approaches to social benefits emphasising collective rather than individual solutions – such as some forms of basic income schemes or conditional cash transfers. 


Some of you are quite advanced in modernising government administration and service delivery using new technologies, innovative approaches to data collection and service management and delivery. At the Forum yesterday, we heard many inspiring leads to follow.


Countries around the world are also increasingly recognising the importance of making policies – especially social policies – more people-centred. As highlighted by the OECD Inclusive Growth Framework, achieving more inclusive economies and societies also requires developing tools for consultation through polling and surveys, in-person citizen engagement, or consulting with labour, employers and other community stakeholders.


This Ministerial Meeting is an important opportunity to distil all this information, to set the agenda for OECD work on social policy going forward and to work together so we can build the social policies of tomorrow. Our experiences here in Montreal will also provide important food for thought for our next OECD Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) in a few days’ time in Paris, whose theme is “La Refondation du Multilateralisme” and where we will be reflecting on new concerted solutions that are needed to respond successfully to the mega-trends ahead of us. This is key to make the economy work for everyone, in the spirit of our new Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth, which will be rolled out at the MCM. 


Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Social policy is the means to inclusive growth and social mobility. Social policy is empowerment policy; it enables people to pursue the opportunities that our market economies create, and it helps them to create even more opportunities, even better opportunities. In this respect it is critical for restoring trust, not just in governments, but in our global economic system and in ourselves.


In the spirit of multilateralism I urge you to work together to build the evidence, to identify the best practices and to share your experiences, all of which will lead to Better Social Policies for Better Lives.


It is my pleasure to pass the floor back to the Chair of our Ministerial Meeting, Jean-Yves Duclos. Minister Duclos the floors is yours. Thank you.




See also:

OECD work on Social and Welfare issues

OECD Ministerial Meeting on Social Policy

OECD work with Canada


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