Social protection systems

Indonesia Female Homemaker

One of the major challenges in social protection is integrating diverse initiatives into genuine systems with the capacity to coordinate programmes with the State institutions responsible for their design, financing, implementation, regulation, monitoring and evaluation, with the aim of raising the population’s living standards.
To adequately supply benefits, social protection policies and programmes need to be coordinated among the different social policy sectors —social development, health, education, labour among others— and between the different administrative levels at which these policies and programmes are implemented. On the demand side, social protection systems should seek to address the different needs among the population, in terms of both the individual and family life cycles and the social group to which they belong. This depends on factors such as income level, type of labour-market participation, area of residence or ethnic group, among others (Cecchini and Martínez, 2011).

Building blocks for social protection systems
Since the early 20th century, several international instruments and recommendations have been drafted and ratified by States. These documents provide a substantial framework from which to begin designing and implementing social protection systems from a rights-based approach. These instruments, particularly Convention No. 102, set down the following principles to guide the implementation of the social security system, irrespective of the type of scheme or programme used to supply benefits:

  • Compulsory affiliation: All persons protected by the different schemes and programmes that make up the social security system must be affiliated.
  • State responsibility: The state has overall responsibility to guarantee the proper administration of the social security system including by securing financial sustainability through periodical actuarial valuations, and has the obligation to ensure that benefits are duly provided.
  • Collective financing: The cost of benefits and the costs associated with administering the delivery of all benefits should be shared by all members of society whether through social insurance contributions or taxes (or a mix of both) to ensure social solidarity and cohesion.
  • Participatory management: To ensure that the interest of the persons protected by the scheme are duly taken into account, the representatives of the persons protected should participate, or be consulted, in the management of the scheme whenever a scheme is not entrusted to a public institution.
  • Due process: Persons protected by social security schemes must have a right of appeal in the event of the refusal of a benefit or a right of complaint as to the quality or quantity of the benefit.
  • Grounds for suspension: While the suspension of a social security benefit is not entirely prohibited, cases leading to a suspension are be limited to three types: (1) the absence of the person concerned from the territory of the State in which the entitlement to the benefit has been acquired; (2) situations in which the person concerned is maintained at public expense, or at the expense of a social security institution or service, or is in receipt of other benefits or indemnities; and finally, (3) a number of cases related to the personal conduct of the beneficiary, for example, making a fraudulent claim or wilful misconduct.
  • Periodic adjustment: Benefits provided over a long period, such as old age pensions, must be adjusted periodically according to changes in the cost of living so benefits maintain their purchasing power over time.

Recommendation No. 202 has further developed this framework, particularly by setting out that states should establish as quickly as possible nationally-defined social protection floors as a fundamental elements of their national social protection systems (paras 1, 2 and 4).


Further reading

 Photo credit: “Homeworkers and their families in Indonesia” by iloasiapacific (CC BY 2.0 via Flickr).

Expert Commentaries

For an Alternative Framing of Pension Policy

In discussing the ways to protect and promote the human right to social security, particularly the right to old age security, Amartya Sen’s work provides important insights. Sen (2009) argues for understanding human rights as powerful moral claims, transcending a legal interpretation of these rights (as legal demands, motivation or ideals for legislation). There is […]

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 […]

Conditionality and Human Rights

Across the world, states have made binding commitments under international human rights law to do what they can to ensure all their population attains its basic material needs. And yet, governments in numerous countries have been introducing so-called conditional cash transfer schemes (CCTs) based on the imposition of forms of behavioural conditionality. This means they […]

Conditionalities, Cash and Gender Relations

Is the empowerment of women through conditional cash transfers illusory as women are ‘empowered’ by these programmes only as the nodal points receiving cash for the family and not as independent persons with their own economic, social and cultural rights? First, it is important to distinguish between the positive effects of conditional cash transfers and […]

Unpacking the ILO’s Social Protection Floor Recommendation (2012) from a Women’s Rights Perspective

ILO and the right to social security: implicit assumptions about women The twentieth century witnessed the development of national social security and social protection mechanisms aimed at providing economic, social and public answers to address social risks. Social security schemes were based on the assumption that either women were to behave like male workers in […]

Securing a Dignified Old Age for All

Access to adequate social protection in old age remains a luxury [...]

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 […]


Persons with disabilities

Social protection plays a key role in realizing the rights of persons with disabilities of all ages: providing them with an adequate standard of living, a basic level of income security; thus reducing levels of poverty and vulnerability. Moreover, mainstream and/or specific social protection schemes concerning persons with disabilities can have a major role in […]

Persons living with HIV/AIDS or other chronic illnesses

  When individuals and communities are able to realize their rights — to education, social security,  information and, most importantly, non-discrimination — the personal and societal impacts of HIV and AIDS and other chronic illnesses are reduced. Often persons living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic illnesses often face difficulties in accessing social protection benefits including […]

Other benefits

Depending on the definition of social protection used (which my vary from country to country) in any given context, national social protection systems may also comprise benefits which cannot easily be classified into the nine “standard” branches of social security, namely health care, sickness, old age, unemployment, employment injury, family and child support, maternity, disability […]

Unemployment protection

Unemployment protection schemes provide income support over a determined period of time to unemployed people who are capable of working. Their objective is to provide at least partial income replacement for the loss of earnings resulting from temporary unemployment, enabling the beneficiary to maintain a certain standard of living during the transition period until he […]

Old age and survivors’ pensions and related benefits

It is essential that persons are provided with reliable sources of income security throughout their old age. As people grow older, they can rely less and less on income from employment for a number of reasons: while highly educated professionals may often continue well-remunerated occupations until late in their life, the majority of the population […]

Maternity protection and parental leave entitlements

Maternity protection includes protection against suspension or loss of income during maternity leave, and access to maternal health care. Maternity leave supported with cash benefits to fully or partially replace women’s earnings during the final stages of pregnancy and after childbirth is of critical importance for the well-being of pregnant women, new mothers and their […]

Health care, long-term care and sickness benefits

Health coverage, and particularly access to health care when it is needed, is crucial for human well-being. In addition, of all the elements of social protection, health care is most essential to the economy as a whole and to economic recovery in particular. Against this background, health protection schemes and systems that are well designed […]

Family and child benefits

Child and family benefits, in cash and in kind, play a particularly important role in realizing children’s rights and addressing their needs, particularly for the most vulnerable members of society. Evidence from many parts of the world demonstrates that social protection benefits have led to a marked improvement in children’s nutritional status. Cash transfer programmes […]

Employment injury protection

Employment injury benefit schemes, providing benefits in cash and in kind in cases of work-related accidents and occupational disease, were established to address one of the key challenges in modern workplaces. Employers are not only responsible for ensuring working conditions which secure the occupational safety and health of their workers, but also for ensuring fair, […]

Legal Instruments

Code du travail haïtien

Article 320 -322. Le Code du travail examine les conditions d’obtention d’un conge maternité, sa durée et son indemnisation, ainsi que, dans l’Article 331, les conditions d’allaitement sur le lieu de travail.  

National Insurance and Social Security Act (Benefits) Regulations (No. 33)

This Act establishes regulations for national insurance and social security.

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 […]

Old Age Pension Act (Chapter 36:03)

This Act makes provisions for the payment old age pensions.  

Reglamento para el goce del periodo de lactancia.

Determina que toda madre en época de lactancia puede disponer en los lugares en donde trabaja, de media hora de descanso dos veces al día con el objeto de alimentar a su hijo, salvo que por convenio o costumbre corresponda un descanso mayor.  

Constitución Política de la República de Guatemala (reformado por Acuerdo legislativo No. 18-93 del 17 de noviembre de 1993)

La constitución establece como garantías del Estado: la protección a la familia (art. 47); la maternidad (art. 52); y la protección a la mujer trabajadora y regulación de las condiciones en que debe prestar sus servicios (art. 102, inc. K).  

Reglamento de la Ley de Servicio Civil. Acuerdo Gubernativo 18-98.

Establece que las madres servidoras del Estado tendrán derecho al descanso pre y post natal de acuerdo con lo prescrito por las disposiciones del Instituto guatemalteco de seguridad social. La servidora no protegida por el programa de maternidad del Instituto guatemalteco de seguridad social, tendrá derecho a licencia con goce de salario o sueldo por […]

Decreto 32-2010

Esta ley tiene como objetivo la creación de un marco jurídico que permita implementar los mecanismos necesarios para mejorar la salud y calidad de vida de las mujeres y del recién nacido, y promover el desarrollo humano a través de asegurar la maternidad de las mujeres mediante el acceso universal, oportuno y gratuito a información […]

Employment Act No. 14 (Modified 2000)

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

National Insurance Act (Modified 2007)

Article 12 states that: Maternity benefit shall be granted to a woman for a period starting from a date not earlier than six weeks before the expected date of confinement and continuing until the expiration of (a) 12 weeks; or (b) 6 weeks from the date on which confinement occurs whichever is the later. Article […]

Legal Cases

Survivors Benefits for Unmarried Couples and their Children in the UK

The Laws Regional standards: Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which secures the rights and freedoms of the ECHR without discrimination, read with the right to respect for family life under Article 8 and the protection of property rights in Article 1 of the First Protocol (A1P1).   National legislation: Section […]

The Rights to Work and Health in The Sudan

Nature of the Case Upon consideration of a communication submitted before it, the African Commission held that in its persecution of human rights defenders, the government of Sudan violated several provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the rights to work and health. Summary In 2012, the African Commission on Human […]

Women’s Right to Maternal Health Services in Uganda

Nature of the Case Four petitioners—including the Center for Health, Human Rights & Development (CEHURD) and two family members of  women who died during childbirth—appeal the Constitutional Court’s dismissal of their petition in which they alleged that the government violated the Constitution by failing to provide basic maternal health services and that health workers’ negligence […]

The Right to Affordable Care in the United States of America

Nature of the Case This case came before the Supreme Court on appeal, and constitutes a challenge to one aspect of the Affordable Care Act, specifically regarding whether subsidies can be provided to low-income people buying health insurance through federal exchanges. These subsidies are vital in enabling people to access affordable health care coverage. Summary […]

Women and children’s social and economic rights (including health) in Uganda

Nature of the Case The case was brought on behalf of a pregnant woman who died in a hospital while awaiting obstetric care. It considers whether the hospital failed to provide appropriate obstetric care and management, thereby violating her rights as well as those of her surviving children. Summary On May 5, 2011, Irene Nanteza […]

The privatization of the pension system in Chile

In 1980 Chile reformed its pension system leading to the privatization of the pensions. This reform gave rise to several representation procedures before the Governing Body under article 24 of the ILO Constitution between 1986 and 2001. The Governing Body concluded that Chile’s pension reform did not comply with its obligations under the Old-Age Insurance […]

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 […]

Duty to prevent discrimination by private health providers on grounds of gender, race or economic status in Brazil

The communication represented the first instance of maternal mortality to be addressed by the international system of human rights, and examined accountability of health provision, in relation to compounding forms of discrimination. The victim was a poor woman of Afro-Brazilian ethnicity. The ethnic, socio-economic and gender factors were widely recognized to be a factor in […]

Application of international provisions concerning maternal health in the Netherlands

In force until 1996, Article 3(a) of “Besluit ziekenhuisverpleging ziekenfondsverzekering” (Decree  on health insurance and hospital care) required personal contributions from women towards the cost of postnatal care. Moreover, according to the explanatory note (“toelichting”) accompanying this Decree, personal contributions would also include postnatal care in hospitals regardless of whether or not this care was […]

Reduction of pensions for condemned prisoners in Azerbaijan

The Court was requested to examine whether Article 109 para. 1 of the Law of Azerbaijan Republic On Pension Maintenance of Citizens, allowing an 80 per cent reduction of pensions for entitled persons who are incarcerated, was inconsistent with the right to social protection, contained in Article 38 of the Constitution of Azerbaijan. According to […]


COVID-19 Recovering Rights: Topic Seven | Income Support to Protect Rights

Main Takeaways Urgent measures are necessary to provide sufficient income to millions of people who cannot work due to pandemicrelated restrictions, so that they can still meet their basic needs. Many of these workers lack social and labor protections.  Basic income schemes vary in type, design and implementation. Those that are universal, durable and unconditional […]

Joint statement: Towards inclusive social protection systems supporting the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities

This joint statement reflects our shared commitment to inclusive social protection systems for persons with disabilities. The statement emerged from meetings and discussions between international partners working on the issues of disability and social protection. These meetings also contributed to the first report of the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons […]

Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development: General Survey concerning the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)

The ILO’s General Survey 2019 , compiled by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR). The Survey (published under the title Universal social protection for human dignity, social justice and sustainable development) focuses on the ILO’s Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), which calls for basic income security and essential healthcare […]

How Secure Is Employment at Older Ages?

Tracking older adults in the Health and Retirement Study from 1992 to 2016, we find that about one-half of full-time, full-year workers ages 51 to 54 experience an employer-related involuntary job separation after age 50 that substantially reduces earnings for years or leads to long-term unemployment. The steady earnings that many people count on in […]

How to Implement Inclusive Social Protection Schemes

This is the third in a series of policy guides developed to support policymakers and practitioners in Asia and the Pacific in their efforts to strengthen social protection. This policy guide explains the  administrative processes, organizational policies and systems required to implement tax-financed social protection, focusing on schemes providing income support. For social protection schemes […]

Universal Basic Income proposals in light of ILO standards: Key issues and global costing (ESS ─ Working Paper No. 62)

This paper reviews proposals for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) in light of ILO standards. Some UBI proposals have the potential to advance equity and social justice, while others may result in a net welfare loss. The ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation (No. 202) includes a number of principles which are highly relevant to guide […]

Universal Social Protection Country Cases

Countries have used many options to finance universal social protection. Those options include: (i) re-allocating public expenditures (e.g., from financing public subsidies to financing specific programs); (ii) increasing tax revenues, including revenue generated from taxation of natural resources; (iii) using the reductions of debt or debt servicing; (iv) expanding social security coverage and contributory revenues, […]

EU Social Protection Systems Programme (EU-SPS)

The EU Social Protection Systems Programme (EU-SPS) is a 4-year programme supporting ten developing partner country governments and national expert institutions in their efforts to develop inclusive and sustainable social protection systems in close co-ordination with other international partners. Link to website

Confronting Inequality: Social protection for families and early childhood through monetary transfers and care worldwide

This paper analyzes social protection policies for families and early childhood focusing on three main policies: family allowances and other types of monetary transfers for families with children, work leaves and early childhood education and care (ECEC) policies worldwide. It analyzes the design and reform of policies which protect families with children and early childhood […]

Why We Need Social Protection

This policy guide, developed by ESCAP together with Development Pathways, explains the basic principles of social protection and the impact it can have on poverty reduction, social cohesion, economic growth and the environment. It shows how investing in inclusive social protection can accelerate progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda. The […]


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 […]

Social Protection and Human Rights