Abu Dhabi The UAE social security system has to be broadened in line with internationally-recognised standards to provide for basic income and care in cases of unemployment, illness or injury, old age or retirement, and loss of the family breadwinner among other eventualities, members of the Federal National Council argued yesterday.

Members of the House argued that such benefits are important not only for individual workers and their families but also for the community as a whole.

The social security system had to be improved to cover the unemployed while addressing issues like discrimination among beneficiaries of the same family and lack of social, health and psychological care for those covered, representatives said.

Report presented

Providing income security and social services enhances productivity and contributes to the dignity and full realisation of citizens’ potential, a report by the Health, Labour and Social Affairs Committee of the House said.

The report added that the social security system also needed to adopt measures to ensure that beneficiaries enjoyed equal opportunities, citing inequality of the cash assistance provided to members of the same family which went against the principle of equality and social justice as prescribed in the constitution.

Salem Bin Rakad Al Ameri,  a representative from Abu Dhabi, demanded that the Ministry of Social Affairs take measures to cover the unemployed and coordinate with employment agencies to help make them productive individuals and contributors to the sustainable development of the country.

Members of the House argued that social security helps maintain a stable workforce adaptable to change and provides a safety net in case of economic crises. Social security served as a fundamental element of social cohesion, thereby helping to ensure social peace and a positive engagement with economic development, they said.

Faisal Abdullah Al Tunaiji, a member from Ras Al Khaimah, demanded that social security benefits be linked to economic and social development and that a 20 per cent increase on social assistance ordered by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan be extended to all beneficiaries of the system without exception.

Mariam Al Roumi, Minister of Social Affairs, vowed that a new draft law will take into account international standards.

New laws would allow the Social Affairs Ministry to grant the unemployed social assistance for six months provided that they look for jobs during that period, she said. New clauses to the law would also ensure that assistance was withdrawn as soon as beneficiaries got jobs or refused to take offered jobs, she added.

She said all aspects of social security are provided by different federal and local departments. “However, the Ministry of Social Affairs is tasked only with providing financial asistance to beneficiaries,” she said, admitting that the law regulating social security called for amendments in line with international standards.

The minister told the House that a number of agreements had been signed with private and public institutions to employ people on social assistance who were capable of work.

As many as 186 people had been trained out of 17,000 beneficiaries able to take up jobs, she said.  Monthly assistance is currently being provided to a total of 10,179 Emirati beneficiaries including widows, divorcees, disabled, elderly, orphans, medically unfit persons, families of prisoners, financially deprived, abandoned women, and women married to expatriate husbands who cannot earn a living for reasons beyond their control among other categories.

The Social Affairs Ministry said that, following a study in cooperation with the UN Development Programme, social assistance was doubled in 2007 after which a survey conducted in 2008 had shown that needs of those receiving aid were being adequately met. 

Representatives also suggested that the number of social researchers be increased to better identify the needy. Each researcher currently looks into the needs of an average of 1,096 people in Sharjah, 540 in Ajman, 455 in Ras Al khaimah and 436 in Abu Dhabi.

Only 20 per cent of the world’s population have access to adequate social security coverage, while more than half lack any kind of social security, according statistics of the International Labour Organisation.

ILO standards on social security provide for different types of social security coverage under different economic systems and development standards. Social security conventions offer a wide range of options and flexibility clauses which allow the goal of universal coverage to be reached gradually. In a globalising world, where people are increasingly exposed to global economic risks, there is growing consciousness of the fact that broad-based national social protection policies can provide a strong buffer against many of the negative social effects of such crises.