Poverty, inequality and standards of living


The lack of social protection coverage, being associated with economic insecurity, poverty, high levels of inequality and low investments in human capital, is seen as a major obstacle to economic and social development. Social protection plays a critical role in reducing poverty and inequality, improving the standards of living and promoting social cohesion. Due to its fundamental role, social protection has become a key element of national strategies to promote human development, political stability and inclusive growth.


Photo credit: “Potatoe bags” by Brett Davies (CCBY 2.0 via Flickr).

Expert Commentaries

Judicial Protection of the Right to Social Security

The right to social security is enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as other international treaties, and has been upheld by numerous judicial bodies at the national, regional and international levels, both explicitly or implicitly through other rights including civil and political ones, and/or other constitutional and […]

A Rights-Based Approach to Social Protection: The Case of Tunisia

Tunisia today is at an important stage in its thinking about a new development model that combines optimal allocation of resources and social equity, welfare being an essential factor in the success of the democratic transition and at the core of the 2011 popular uprising. However, structural reform cannot be achieved in the absence of […]

Realizing Rights in Practice: ‘Minimum’ Level of Social Security in Relation to an ‘Adequate’ Standard of Living

Bob Deacon, Emeritus Professor at the International Social Policy, University of Sheffield

Legal Instruments

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 […]

Legal Cases

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

Recalling previous recommendations, the Committee observed that the austerity measures in conjunction with the continuous contractions of the economy, employment and public finances posed a threat to the viability of the Greek national social security system, resulting in the impoverishment of the population, thus undermining the application of all accepted parts of Social Security (Minimum […]


Shame, Poverty and Social Protection

Despite long-standing conceptual considerations of shame in understanding poverty and debates about its moral, social and emotional qualities, the role of shame in poverty reduction policies remains largely unexplored. Notions of shame or mechanisms leading to shame – such as stigma or lack of dignity or respect – feature in many studies and policy evaluations, […]

From Disparity to Dignity: tackling economic inequality through the Sustainable Development Goals

The briefing explores a critical set of redistributive policies – in the areas of social protection, health, education and taxation – that are key to tackling economic inequality from a human rights perspective. It also explains the equally crucial ‘pre-distributive’ policies – actions governments should take to ensure the rules of the marketplace are equitable […]

Great Expectations: Is the IMF turning words into action on inequality?

In recent years, the International Monetary Fund has become a global leader in highlighting the inequality crisis; consistently identifying it as a major threat to human progress and prosperity. This is a significant shift from its previously held position that rising inequality was a necessary trade-off for achieving greater economic growth. What is the IMF […]

The Political Economy of Income Distribution: industry level evidence from 14 OECD countries

This article presents an econometric estimation of the determinants of the wage share, using sectoral data for 14 OECD countries for the period 1970- 2014. We present estimations for the wage share of high- and low-skilled workers and within manufacturing and service industries. We augment sectoral data with input-output tables and union density data to […]

Income Inequality and Labour Income Share in G20 Countries: Trends, impacts and causes

  The Government of Turkey has made inclusiveness one of the three priorities of its G20 Presidency. This builds upon the G20 Leaders’ commitment in 2014 to “…support development and inclusive growth, and help to reduce inequality and poverty.” Indeed, the inclusiveness of growth, and the related issues of growing inequality and declining labour income […]

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index

In 2015, the leaders of 193 governments promised to reduce inequality as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Without reducing inequality, meeting the SDG to eliminate poverty will be impossible. Now Development Finance International and Oxfam have produced the first index to measure the commitment of governments to reducing the gap between the rich […]

The Political Economy of Tax Reforms and the Implications for Social Development in Nicaragua

This paper examines the mobilization of domestic resources for social development in Nicaragua, analysing the fiscal system, its main tool. The main argument of the paper is that many tax reforms that have taken place in Nicaragua since the 1970s have been motivated mainly by the objective to increase revenue collection. However, through all the […]

Towards Income Security in Asia and the Pacific: A Focus on Income Support Schemes

Rising inequality as well as the need to build resilience to crises, whether economic and financial crises, or natural disasters, have increased the call for strengthening social protection in the Asia-Pacific region. To strengthen social protection, most countries in the region have already set in place income support schemes, often targeted towards certain vulnerable groups. […]

Social Protection, Inequality and Social Justice

Social protection refers to a range of policies that explicitly aim to reduce poverty and vulnerability, and which have the potential to be redistributive. This contribution argues that social protection can significantly contribute to reducing inequality and social injustice, particularly when it is designed and delivered in conjunction with complementary initiatives. Emerging evidence from middle […]

Challenging Inequalities: Pathways to a just world (World Social Science Report 2016)

This report looks at seven dimensions of inequality and how they interact to shape people’s lives by creating a vicious cycle of inequality. Inequalities should not just be understood and tackled in terms of income and wealth. Inequalities can be economic, political, social, cultural, environmental, spatial and knowledge-based. The six objectives of this Report are […]


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 […]