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 […]


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 […]

Multidimensional progress: well-being beyond income

The report focuses on the increasingly pressing challenges facing the region. In times of global economic fragility, eradicating poverty and reducing inequalities in all their dimensions require a twofold strategy: protecting the achievements of the last decade  to prevent millions from falling back into poverty while promoting comprehensive policies adapted to populations suffering from discrimination […]

Social Protection in Brazil: Impacts on poverty, inequality and growth

Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $10,427 in 2009. Growth rates increased from 1.9% to 5.1% per year from 1998 to 2008. Yet the country also has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world (the Gini coefficient is 54.2), […]

Reducing Poverty and Investing in People: The New Role of Safety Nets in Africa

Over the past two decades, Africa’s strong economic growth has paved the way for poverty reduction. Between 1995 and 2008, the percentage of the African population living in poverty fell from 58 percent to 48 percent (World Bank 2011). Nevertheless, high poverty levels persist, especially in rural areas, and the gap between income groups in […]

Social transfers and poverty in middle- and high- income countries – A global perspective

This study investigates an old question that has re-emerged in social policy making and in analyses of global social development: to what extent does targeting and size of social transfers matter for poverty? Using multilevel logistic regression and Cross- National Data Center in Luxembourg (LIS) income data for 40 middle- and high-income countries, we show […]

Report on extreme poverty and human rights (A/HRC/29/31), submitted by the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston

In the present report, the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights focuses on the relationship between extreme poverty and extreme inequality and argues that a human rights framework is critical in addressing extreme inequality. In the report, the Special Rapporteur provides an overview of the widening economic and social inequalities around the world; […]

Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics

This report argues that this is because many current approaches to reducing poverty and inequality fail to consider key institutional, policy and political dimensions that may be both causes of poverty and inequality, and obstacles to their reduction. Moreover, when a substantial proportion of a country’s population is poor, it makes little sense to detach […]

Social protection and social exclusion: an analytical framework to assess the links

This Background Note suggests that social exclusion is a useful lens for researching and analysing the effects of social protection policies and programmes in low- and middle-income countries. It discusses current trends in social protection discourse, and some specific examples of how social protection could promote social inclusion by addressing some of the main outcomes […]


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 […]