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 […]


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 […]

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 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

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 […]

Recommendation on Social Protection Floors: Basic Principles for Innovative Solutions

This book assesses the catalogue of principles included in the ILO Recommendation on Social Protection Floors from a legal perspective. Despite the international community’s recognition of social protection as a human right, the vast majority of the world’s population still has no access to social protection. In a major effort to address this situation, the International […]

Reflecting on the Human Right to Social Security

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 asserts that social security is an inalienable human right. Realizing this human right is often considered, simply, as a matter of political will and of administrative aptitude. In these terms, the progressive realization of the human right to social security may be viewed as 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