Similar to many developing economies, achieving universal social security coverage is both an aspiration and a challenge for Pakistan. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought home the importance of social security for all. What steps can Pakistan take to widen coverage to as many citizens as possible? According to the International Labour Organization, social security is the protection that a society provides to individuals and households to ensure access to health care and to guarantee income security, particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness, invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a breadwinner. In 1965, the Government of Pakistan enacted the West Pakistan Social Security Ordinance whereby four Provincial ‘Employees Social Security Institutions (ESSIs)’ were established to provide employment-injury and health services to all eligible workers and their dependent family members. All ESSIs are primarily funded by ‘private sector contributions’ where government collects 6 per cent of the wage bill from registered enterprises and distributes benefits to the registered workers in the form of health services, insurance against medical care and cash benefits including cash sickness, injury, maternity, iddat, disablement gratuity, disablement pension, ex-gratia grant and pension for dependants and death grant. However, at present, only a small number of formal economy workers are registered with ESSIs – just 34 percent or about 1.8 million workers, out of a total 5.27 million eligible workers. There are a number of major reasons for this. Narrow eligibility criteria exclude a large number of workers while a general lack of awareness and trust exists among employers and workers about social security benefits and the governance of schemes. Complicated registration procedures and fragmented schemes by social security institutions to expand coverage also play a role. In general, social security deficits in Pakistan can be found at three levels. At a legal level, some groups of workers within the formal economy are excluded from labour and social security laws (for example due to non-standard forms of employment). At a practical level, there is insufficient application of the existing laws while at the administrative level registration processes are complicated and time consuming. At the legal level however, social security benefits are not portable as no law provides for workers to continue to benefit from schemes if they move from one province to the other. This prevents workers working in one province to continue to avail benefits in another province. A robust legislative framework will provide a solid foundation. Pakistan has made strides to ensure that the legal framework for social security is inclusive but it is important that these laws are designed in the light of relevant ILO Conventions. Pakistan has not yet ratified the flagship ILO Convention No. 102 on Social security (Minimum standards). Ratification of this convention is an official commitment by country to guide national social security systems to meet the minimum standard level defined by the Convention No. 102. There is clearly a need to enhance compliance with existing laws and regulations through facilitation, incentives and dialogue. Facilitation, refers to helping enterprises identify issues of compliance and to prevent evasion of social security contributions. One way this can be done is through the exchange of data between tax authorities and social security institutions or through incentives like Punjab’s Amnesty Scheme. This waives the 50 percent mandatory penalty or increase that employers must pay if they can clear their social security contribution arrears by June 2021. The second mechanism sees use of incentives. A good example is Punjab’s logo/certificate based registration campaign that enables enterprises to market their compliance, maintain supplier relations and raise their corporate image by being recognised as a compliant business entity. The third mechanism – dialogue – involves increasing legal awareness among employers and workers, promoting a culture of compliance, and communicating the economic returns of contributing to social security. A series of such sessions have taken place in Sindh recently and helped to improve coverage amongst workers. All these require significant efforts from the authorities responsible for implementing social security policy. Furthermore, strong steps are required to boost confidence in the transparency of schemes through strengthened governance. Many steps can and should be taken to extend coverage of social security in Pakistan. Some, may be relatively straightforward. Others such as changing the cultural underpinnings of welfare provision will be more challenging. Yet, by providing social security systems which are flexible, affordable and responsive to the needs its population, Pakistan will be creating a firm foundation upon which the future development of the nation and its people can be built. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.