Policy Paper on Social Protection

Organization(s): ODI
Author: Andrew Shepherd, Armando Barrientos, Rachel Marcus
Year: 2004
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Social protection is an important dimension in the reduction of poverty and multidimensional deprivation. It is an approach towards thinking about the processes, policies and interventions which respond to the economic, social, political and security risks and constraints poor and vulnerable people face, and which will make them less insecure and less poor, and more able to participate in economic growth. More narrowly, it describes a set of policies that governments can pursue in order to provide protection both to the ‘active poor’, enabling them to participate more productively in economic activity, and to the less active poor, with considerable benefits for society as a whole. Such policies can help to fulfil states’ obligations to ensure basic rights for all individuals. Social protection policies are always part of a broader set of policies – on macroeconomic stability, enterprise and employment development, health, and education – aimed at reducing risk and vulnerability and encouraging pro-poor growth.

This paper argues that well designed social protection can have a positive rather than a restraining impact on economic growth (and therefore on the first MDG) and can help to shape the pattern of economic growth in favour of the poor, such that the poor benefit at least as much as, if not more than, the average (reflecting on the inequality indicator for the first MDG). It states that social protection for the less active poor can be affordable even in low-income countries, and that it has significant positive economic externalities.

The paper also argues that the difficulties for poor people in recovering from shocks purely or largely through their own efforts, especially when shocks are multiple or sequenced, should not be underestimated: recovery takes longer for the poor and usually benefits from external help, whether from public policy or private support. Informal protection is important and, where it is equitable in its burdens, should be facilitated.

The paper asks what is meant by social protection, clarifying its meaning, purpose and scope within DFID’s approach to poverty reduction and programmes (Section 2). The primary purpose of social protection has three parts:

  • to prevent, mitigate and enhance the ability to cope with and recover from the major
    hazards faced by all poor people;
  • to contribute to chronically poor people’s ability to emerge from poverty, deprivation
    and insecurity, and to challenge the oppressive socio-economic relationships which
    could be keeping them poor, by increasing livelihood security and linking such
    increases to the promotion of enhanced livelihoods; and
  • to enable the less active poor to live a dignified life with an adequate standard of
    living, such that poverty is not passed from one generation to the next.

Social protection also supports economic growth, social integration and political stability,
human development, and human rights objectives.

The scope of this paper is broad, covering safety nets, social assistance and social insurance, and mutual and informal risk management. The mechanisms range from pure DFID paper on social protection
transfers to those without access to assets, including their own labour and social networks, through transfers that require a reciprocal action from those able to provide it (e.g. labour contributions or attendance at a public service), through to mutual insurance whereby the entire cost of protection is met by the beneficiary.

Social Protection and Human Rights