Social protection systems and social protection floors

Ageing indigenous Laos

A social protection system (or social security system) consists of all types of social protection schemes and programmes within a given country. These different schemes and programmes, which can be contributory or non-contributory, should be interlinked and complementary in their objectives and functions. For reasons of effectiveness and efficiency, it is essential that there is close coordination within the system.

Social protection floors are a fundamental element of national social protection systems, with the purpose of providing a basic level of protection for all.

The most recent social security instrument adopted by the ILO, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), provides guidance to States on both social protection systems in general, and social protection floors in particular, to address the fact that the majority of the world’s population does not have access to social security.

It does so by providing a strategy for establishing and maintaining comprehensive social security systems through a two-pronged approach stipulating that States should (para 1):

  1. Establish and maintain a nationally-defined social protection floor that provides essential health care and basic income security to all residents and children;
  2. Progressively ensure higher levels of protection as set out in ILO social security standards (i.e. Convention No. 102 and higher standards).

States should establish nationally-defined social protection floors as quickly as possible, providing basic social security guarantees to all residents and children (paras 4 and 6). These guarantees should ensure at a minimum that, over the life cycle, all in need have access to essential health care and basic income security (paras 4 and 5). The Recommendation also provides specific guidance about establishing basic social security guarantees by law and access to complaint and appeal procedures (para 7), setting and updating the level of these guarantees (para 8), the implementation of these guarantees through different schemes and benefits, and coordination with other policy areas (paras 9 and 10), their financing (paras 11 and 12), national strategies for the extension of social security (paras 13-18) and monitoring (paras 19-24).

Recommendation No. 202 builds upon the principles laid out in Convention No. 102 to guide the implementation of national strategies for the extension of social security. This includes applying the following principles:

  • Overall but also primary responsibility of the state;
  • Universal protection with the aim of ensuring the social and economic participation of all members of society, and in particular disadvantaged persons, including those in the formal economy;
  • Safeguarding and respecting the rights and dignity of protected persons (such as through the provision of adequate and predictable benefits; establishing a strong legal framework that provides, inter alia, for effective and accessible complaint and appeal procedures; respect for the principle of non-discrimination, gender equality; and responsiveness to the special needs of persons);
  • Setting up robust social protection systems that move progressively toward the realization of social security for all through principles of:
    • coherence and coordination;
    • participatory management;
    • solidarity in financing;
    • transparency and accountability;
    • financial sustainability; and
    • regular monitoring and evaluation.
Photo credit: “Laos, Akha Tribe” by Dietmar Temps (CC BY 2.0 via Flickr) 


Expert Commentaries

The Compatibility between ILO Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors and the ICESCR

It is undeniably relevant to consider the compatibility of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Recommendation No. 202 and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), given that the ICESRC is very demanding, covering not only social security and its main nine branches, but also questions like work and working conditions, education, food, […]

The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors

In the wake of the International Labour Organization’s adoption of Recommendation 202 in June 2012, the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors was created. But that was not the start of the unique network of today more than 80 NGOs and trade unions of which 16 form the Coalition’s Core Team from all parts of […]

ILO Recommendation 202 is Not a Legal Island: Explicit Links between R. 202, the ICESCR and the UDHR

ILO Recommendation 202 is not a legal island More than 18 months after the global community (184 national delegations consisting of governments, workers and employer representatives) unanimously accepted ILO Recommendation No. 202 on social protection floors in June 2012 it seems to be one of the most misunderstood documents in almost 100 years of global […]

Legal Instruments

National Insurance and Social Security Act (No. 15)

This Act to establish a system of national insurance and social security providing pecuniary payments by way of old-age benefit, invalidity benefit, survivors’s benefit, sickness benefit, maternity benefit and funeral benefit, and to substitute for compensation under the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance a system of insurance against injury or death caused by accident arising out of […]

Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy Recommendation, 2015 (No. 204)

This Recommendation recognizes the lack of protection of workers in the informal economy, and provides guidance for improving their protection and facilitating transitions to the formal economy. It also recognizes that decent work deficits – the denial of rights at work, the absence of sufficient opportunities for quality employment, inadequate social protection and the absence […]

Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102)

A reference for the development of social security systems, Convention No. 102 is the flagship of the up-to-date social security Conventions since it is deemed to embody the internationally accepted definition of the very principle of social security.  Convention No. 102 is unique for both its conceptual formulation of social security, and the guidance it provides for […]

Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

Recommendation No. 202 is the first international instrument to offer guidance to countries to close social security gaps and progressively achieve universal protection through the establishment and maintenance of comprehensive social security systems. To this aim, the Recommendation calls for (1) the implementation, as a priority, of social protection floors (SPF) as a fundamental element […]

Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 (No. 157)

Convention No. 157 and its accompanying Recommendation No. 167 specifically address the issue of the maintenance of social security rights of migrant workers and complement Convention No. 118, focusing on equality of treatment and exportability. Unlike Convention No. 118 however, which allows State Parties to choose one or more out of the nine branches, Convention […]

Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No. 118)

Convention No. 118 addresses the issue of the social security of migrant workers in a global manner. It covers the nine branches of social security and provides that, for each branch accepted under the Convention, a ratifying State undertake to grant equality of treatment to nationals of other ratifying States (and their dependents) with its […]

Legal Cases

Austerity measures that contravene Conventions by reducing social protection and increasing poverty

In its general report of 2009, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) observed that the global financial crisis was posing a real threat to the financial viability and sustainable development of social security systems and undermining the application of ILO social security standards. The CEACR reminded governments that, under […]


Universal Social Protection Floors: costing estimates and affordability in 57 lower income countries (ESS Working Paper No. 58)

This paper presents the results of costing universal social protection floors in 34 lower middle-income, and 23 low-income countries, consisting of: (i) allowances for all children and all orphans; (ii) maternity benefits for all women with newborns; (iii) benefits for all persons with severe disabilities, and (iv) universal old-age pensions. The levels of this comparable […]

World Social Protection Report 2017-2019 Executive Summary

Universal social protection is essential for realizing the human right to social security for all, advancing social justice and promoting inclusive growth, and accelerating progress towards achieving the globally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This ILO flagship report provides a global overview on recent trends in social protection […]

World Social Protection Report 2017–19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Universal social protection is essential for realizing the human right to social security for all, advancing social justice and promoting inclusive growth, and accelerating progress towards achieving the globally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This ILO flagship report provides a global overview on recent trends in social protection […]

Universal Basic Income in a Feminist Perspective and Gender Analysis

A feminist perspective and a gender analysis – avoiding conflation of gender and women – can usefully contribute to the discussion on the universal basic income (UBI). Indeed, it helps analyse the concrete situation of women and of men, by looking into power relationships between them and structural discrimination based on sex, including multiple/intersectional discriminations. […]

Mainstreaming Graduation into Social Protection Floors (One Pager 324)

With the recent adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), eradicating extreme poverty presents a major challenge for governments worldwide. Despite recent progress, 902 million people remain in extreme poverty. To attain the right to social protection for people living in extreme poverty and, simultaneously, Goal 1, it will be necessary to lift […]

The Social Dimensions of Saudi Vision 2030: a paradigm shift (One Pager 361)

This One Pager explains that to address internal development issues in Saudi Arabia such as poverty, vulnerability and inequality, the Vision 2030 plan and its programmes have, inter alia, pointed to a number of specific goals, targets and policy measures to reduce social vulnerability, address labour market issues for women and promote quality in education and training initiatives. […]

Report on extreme poverty and human rights (A/HRC/35/26), submitted by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston

The focus of the present report is on the idea of replacing or supplementing existing social protection systems with a universal basic income (“basic income”). In recent months, this proposal has drawn increased attention from governments, scholars, and practitioners in a range of different fields, and four major books on the subject have been published […]

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 […]

Civil Society Guide for National Social Protection Floors (SPFs)

The Civil Society Guide for National Social Protection Floors (SPFs) was developed by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, in close collaboration with the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors. The guide is available in English, Spanish, French and Arabic.    

Social security system of Ukraine in 2014–15 and beyond: towards effective social protection floors

This report presents a review of the recent changes made to the Ukrainian social security system between 2014 and 2015 and of the planned future reforms in the light of international social security standards. The ILO assessment aims to assist the Ukrainian Government and the social partners in effectively formulating and implementing measures to sustain […]


Human Rights Council Side Event on 19 June

On 19 June, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Movement ATD Fourth World, with support of the Permanent Missions of Belgium, Chile, France and Romania will hold a side event at the Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston will appear on […]