Advancing Social Protection in the Western Balkans

Reforming social protection systems has become more important recently due to various global crises, drawing attention to this unfinished agenda in the Western Balkans. The six Western Balkan countries, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, need social protection more than ever. Millions of people in the region remain vulnerable to a range of well-known risks, with shocks and new sources of vulnerability exacerbating the urgency of reform. These countries are taking steps to improve their social protection systems to make them fairer, more sustainable, more effective, and better able to respond to people’s needs. However, progress is slow and uneven. Social protection systems across the Western Balkans are comprehensive and complex, spanning multiple objectives. To reduce poverty and vulnerability, reforms are necessary, and governments should focus on four main areas: (i) establishing strong foundations for social protection systems to better respond to crises; (ii) expanding coverage and effectiveness of poverty-targeted programs to improve inclusion and support for vulnerable populations; (iii) facilitating access to better employment opportunities and promoting labor market inclusion; and (iv) ensuring the financial sustainability of social protection programs for long-term effectiveness.