Social Security Department - International Labour Office

Armando Barrientos and Rebecca Holmes - Institution: Brooks World Poverty Institute and Overseas

John Hoddinott - IFPRI

Designing and Implementing Social Transfer Programmes
Michael Samson, Ingrid van Niekerk, Kenneth Mac Quene - Economic Policy Research Institute


Asian Development Bank

Making the case for a comprehensive, rights-based notion of Social Protection
Dennis Arends, UNICEF Egypt


For further information, check IPC-IG's Cash Transfers and Social Protection research area


What is Social Protection?

Social protection in this gateway will be understood as a range of policies which help to protect people in situations of vulnerability, with a view to empowering them to lead their own lives according to their choices. Vulnerability may arise due to loss of income, old age, disability, sickness or early childhood.

Social protection policies are based on a wide array of public and community instruments which can be both contributive and non-contributive. These instruments include insurance, safety nets, cash and in-kind transfers, as well as labour-related protection. Policies that aim to access the most vulnerable in areas such as health and education can also be linked to social protection.

Social protection can assume both promotive and protective policies. Promotive policies refer to those which help to build capabilities in the long term while protective policies are those which aim to protect livelihoods in the short run. Social protection usually combines both of these initiatives.

Social protection takes varied forms across the Global South. There is increasing awareness of the need to incorporate social protection in long-term strategies, and in viewing it as a right. Social security remains limited in most countries where the majority of people are not in the so-called “formal market”. The framework of social protection in the North cannot fit in the context of the South, as no universal approach can be taken. Each country needs to find its own way, but nevertheless learn with other partner countries’ experiences.

Why Social Protection?

Any society, no matter how wealthy, will always need to have in place mechanisms to protect people in the event of illness, old age, or disability.

There are different ways of building social protection mechanisms. The political constituency of any given country usually dictates the level of social protection. Social protection policies need to be embedded in long-term strategies of growth and inclusion, but poverty cannot be overcome by social protection policies alone. It requires cooperation between different sectors in order to enable proper scrutiny of the tax system and the business sector, as well as long-term investments in health and education.

Moreover, there is already a well established body of thinking which acknowledges that poverty is much more than income and includes other dimensions such as identity, and a sense of belonging and participation in a country’s political process.

Ultimately, social protection policies help to address those different dimensions when considering the importance of human rights, gender balance and inclusion.

What is often lacking, however, is the emphasis in the development of people as individuals, meaning an ability to reach one’s potential.

The “paradigm of Human Development” is crucial to a process of bringing other dimensions into the debate, so more of the richness of the human experience can be acknowledged; it is far from enough to address basic consumption. Basic needs must be addressed but, at the same time, other needs such as the need to relate, understand, grow and give must be considered.

Useful links:

The World Bank, Social Protection and Labor
The International Labor Organization, Social Protection Sector