Universality of Protection

States parties to major human rights instruments related to economic, social and cultural rights such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have an immediate minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of all economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to social security and the right to health for all members of society. These minimum essential levels are those which are crucial to securing an adequate standard of living through basic subsistence, essential primary health care, basic shelter and housing, and basic forms of education for all members of society. The ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) provides detailed guidance for the definition of the content of the right to social security under the ICESCR and regional instruments in various parts of the world. The basic social security guarantees constituting national social protection floors, according to the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) can be considered as reflecting the minimum core content of the right to social security.

Even during times of severe resource constraints, when available resources are demonstrably inadequate, the obligation remains for States parties to demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposal in an effort to satisfy, as matter of priority, minimum essential levels and to protect the most disadvantaged and marginalized members or groups of society by adopting relatively low-cost, targeted programmes.

According to the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the ICESCR requires States parties:

(a) To ensure access to a social security scheme that provides a minimum essential level of benefits to all individuals and families that will enable them to acquire at least essential health care, basic shelter and housing, water and sanitation, foodstuffs, and the most basic forms of education. If a State party cannot provide this minimum level for all risks and contingencies within its maximum available resources, the Committee recommends that the State party, after a wide process of consultation, select a core group of social risks and contingencies;

(b) To ensure the right of access to social security systems or schemes on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups;

(c) To respect existing social security schemes and protect them from unreasonable interference;

(d) To adopt and implement a national social security strategy and plan of action;

(e) To take targeted steps to implement social security schemes, particularly those that protect disadvantaged and marginalized individuals and groups;

(f) To monitor the extent of the realization of the right to social security (CESCR General Comment 19 para 59).

The Committee has noted that “in order for a State party to be able to attribute its failure to meet at least its minimum core obligations to a lack of available resources, it must demonstrate that every effort has been made to use all resources that are at its disposal in an effort to satisfy, as a matter of priority, these minimum obligations” (General Comment 19 para 60).

Progressive realization of the right to social protection

The concept of “progressive realization” describes a central aspect of States’ obligations to recognize and protect economic, social and cultural rights under international treaties. This principle is recognized both by the ICESCR and by ILO social security instruments. In terms of the right to social security, it means that States parties have an obligation to take appropriate measures to the maximum of their available resources towards the full realization of the right to social security. The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation reiterates the commitment to universal protection, but recognizes that this objective may be reached progressively, giving priority to the implementation of social protection floors as a starting point for those countries that do not have a minimum level of social security guarantees (para 13, 1a). ILO’s Convention No. 102 also sets out the principle of progressive realization in allowing States to initially accept obligations under three of the nine branches of social security, while providing that Members should subsequently accept other branches and move gradually towards the full achievement of the Convention (Article 3).

Referring to their available resource is therefore an acknowledgement of the fact that realization of these rights can be hampered by a lack of resources. Equally, it means that a State’s compliance with its obligation to take appropriate measures is assessed with the consideration of resources—financial and others—available to it.

Although minimum essential levels of social protection such as those provided through national social protection floors should be financed by national resources to the extent possible (Recommendation No. 202, para. 12), “available” resources are not only the resources within a State, but also those available from the international community through international assistance. States that do not possess the necessary resources are obliged to seek assistance to ensure, at the very least, minimum essential levels of enjoyment of social protection. Measures taken should be as expeditious and effective as possible.

Resource constraints prompt many States to target the provision of social security benefits on specific groups of the population, generally the poorest. From a rights-based perspective, targeting should only be an instrument toward the progressive realization of universal coverage. When targeting becomes unavoidable because of resource constraints, the targeting mechanism should abide by the principles of equality and non-discrimination. This means, for example, that the eligibility criteria should be objective, reasonable and transparent, and that stigmatization of beneficiaries should be avoided.

According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Committee), there is a strong presumption that retrogressive measures taken in relation to the right to social security are prohibited under the ICESCR. The Committee noted that, when adopting retrogressive measures, states must demonstrate that they have been introduced after the most careful consideration of all alternatives and that they are duly justified by reference to the totality of the rights provided for in the Covenant, in the context of the full use of the maximum available resources. If a State uses “resource constraints” as an explanation for any retrogressive measure, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will assess the situation considering, inter alia, the country’s level of development, the severity of the breach, whether the situation concerned the enjoyment of the essential levels of human rights and whether or not the state had identified low-cost options or sought international assistance. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights writes that the ICESCR “implies a prohibition of measures that would diminish realization of the rights guaranteed by the Covenant, except when justified by certain strict criteria.” Retrogressive measures are those that would lead to a reversal in the enjoyment of rights recognized in the ICESCR. States are responsible for ensuring that their policy does not reduce access to social security.

Photo credit: “Homeworkers and their families, Malang, East Java, Indonesia” by ILO in Asia and the Pacific (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).

 

Expert Commentaries

Universal Basic Income – Necessary but not Sufficient?

The world of work is in the early years of a radical technology-driven transformation. In many ways this is not new – technology has always been a key factor in driving productivity, making some jobs obsolete and new ones necessary. Yet the pace of change has sped up since the First Industrial Revolution, with inventions […]

“Without my pension I would be dead for a long time”: social protection for older persons affected by HIV/AIDS

In the past 15 years, evidence has emerged on the role of social protection in mitigating older people’s vulnerability to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. In particular, evidence on older people as carers of orphaned grandchildren revealed their extraordinary commitment for their families, as well as their severe vulnerability, and highlighted the lack of […]

Legal Instruments

Employment Act No. 14 (Modified 2000)

The 2000 modification of the Employment Act No. 14 establishes workers’ rights to maternity leave and maternity benefits.

Decreto 332 – Reforma al Código del trabajo

Reforma el artículo 29 del Código de trabajo, concediendo licencia por 3 días a los padres, por nacimiento o adopción.  

Decreto 376 – Reforma el Decreto 332

Decreto original no especificaba si la licencia debe otorgarse o no con goce del salario. Esta reforma establece que por esta licencia, el patrono estará obligado a reconocer una prestación económica equivalente al salario ordinario de tres días.  

Decreto N° 93, Ley de Maternidad y Paternidad responsable

Esta ley es especial y tiene por objeto establecer los mecanismos y el procedimiento para garantizar que toda niña y todo niño sean reconocidos legalmente por parte de sus padres y, para que cuando sea necesario, se determine con certeza jurídica la maternidad o paternidad, permitiendo con ello una maternidad y paternidad responsable.  

Constitución de la República del Ecuador.

En el Artículo 6, inciso 1 y 5 se establece que se promoverá la maternidad y paternidad responsable y la corresponsabilidad materna y paterna en el cuidado de los hijos. Por otra parte, en el artículo 333 se reconoce como labor productiva el trabajo no remunerado de autosustento y cuidado humano que se realiza en […]

Ley Orgánica reformatoria a la Ley Orgánica de servicio civil y carrera administrativa y de unificación y homologación de las remuneraciones del sector público y al Código del Trabajo.

Establece que toda servidora pública tiene derecho a una licencia con remuneración de 12 semanas por el nacimiento de su hija o hijo; en caso de nacimientos múltiples el plazo se extiende por 10 días adicionales. Por otra parte señala que el servidor público tiene derecho a licencia por paternidad con remuneración por 10 días […]

Ley 87

Establece que el Sistema Dominicano de Seguridad Social (SDSS) desarrollará servicios de estancias infantiles para atender a los hijos de los trabajadores, desde los 45 días de nacidos hasta cumplir los cinco años de edad.

Ley 1.289

Establece la responsabilidad compartida entre la madre y el padre de atender, cuidar, proteger, educar, asistir, dar profundo afecto y preparar para la vida a sus hijos e hijas, constituyendo un derecho y un deber de ambos asumir cabalmente tales responsabilidades, así como disfrutar de las satisfacciones derivadas de una estrecha relación con ellos desde […]

Ley n° 9.220

De acuerdo al artículo 1, se crea la Red Nacional de Cuido y Desarrollo Infantil (Redcudi), con la finalidad de establecer un sistema de cuido y desarrollo infantil de acceso público, universal y de financiamiento solidario que articule las diferentes modalidades de prestación pública y privada de servicios en materia de cuido y desarrollo infantil, […]

Ley 1.361 por medio del cual se crea la Ley de Protección Integral de la Familia.

Establece que el Estado y la Sociedad deben garantizar a la familia el ejercicio pleno de, entre otros, el derecho a un trabajo digno e ingresos justos, a la salud plena y a la seguridad social, a la igualdad y a recibir protección y asistencia social cuando sus derechos sean vulnerados o amenazados.

Resources

Towards Universal Health Care in Emerging Economies: Opportunities and Challenges

This book explores how political, social, economic and institutional factors in eight emerging economies have combined to generate diverse outcomes in their move towards universal health care. Structured in three parts, the book begins by framing social policy as an integral system in its own right. The following two parts go on to discuss the […]

Lessons for the Universalization of Health Care in Emerging Economies

This webinar explores the opportunities and challenges facing developing countries as they seek to expand and universalize their health care systems. Universal health care was once a central pillar of the welfare state, but the rise of neoliberalism in international policy discourse and practice eroded the support for universal social provision. As a result, many […]

Health for All, All for Health: lessons from the universalization of health care in emerging economies 

Achieving universal health coverage is integral to the central pledge of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “leave no one behind”. Meeting this target is about more than just having enough resources to incrementally expand health coverage to the entire population. This Brief provides policy makers with evidence-based advice on how to design and […]

Reclaiming Policies for the Public: Privatization, partnerships, corporate capture and their impact on sustainability and inequality — assessments and alternatives

In the 2030 Agenda governments committed to a revitalized Global Partnership between States and declared that public finance has to play a vital role in achieving the SDGs. But in recent decades, the combination of neoliberal ideology, corporate lobbying, business-friendly fiscal policies, tax avoidance and tax evasion has led to a massive weakening of the […]

Política Fiscal para la Igualdad y los Derechos: Mapeo de debates, iniciativas y actores de la Región Andina

La política fiscal tiene un rol central en la superación de las desigualdades socio-económicas y el cumplimiento de los derechos humanos. Su potencial rol redistributivo convierte a esta política en una herramienta única para lograr un modelo de desarrollo que tenga como ejes centrales la igualdad, los derechos humanos y la sostenibilidad medioambiental. Bajo esta […]

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Dainius Pūras (A/HRC/35/21)

In this report, in an attempt to contribute to the discussion around mental health as a global health priority, the Special Rapporteur focuses on the right of everyone to mental health and some of the core challenges and opportunities, urging that the promotion of mental health be addressed for all ages in all settings. He […]

Basic Income as a Policy Option: technical background note illustrating costs and distributional implications for selected countries

The concept of a Basic Income (BI), an unconditional transfer paid to each individual is not new. However, although many OECD countries have non-contributory, non-means tested benefits for certain groups (most commonly children or pensioners) no country has made a BI the central pillar of its social security system. The recent upsurge in attention to […]

Basic Income as a Policy Option: can it add up?

Recent debates of basic income (BI) proposals shine a useful spotlight on the challenges that traditional forms of income support are facing, and highlight gaps in social provisions that largely depend on income or employment status. A universal “no questions asked” public transfer would be simple and have the advantage that no one would be […]

Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health: Realizing Health and Human Rights

How can people’s sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHRs) around the world be better protected and promoted? Watch panellists at this event present perspectives on: Challenges and good practices in ensuring full access to SRHRs Environmental dimensions of family planning The linkages between a human rights-based social protection framework and access to these rights Current […]

Exclusion by Design: an assessment of the effectiveness of the proxy means test poverty targeting mechanism (ESS Working Paper No. 56)

This paper assesses the effectiveness of the proxy means test (PMT) targeting methodology. It brings together international evidence to show that it is both inaccurate and arbitrary. The mechanism suffers from high in-built design errors, additional errors introduced during implementation, and infrequent surveys, meaning that it cannot respond to the dynamic nature of household incomes. […]