Social protection systems in Latin America and the Caribbean: Jamaica

Organization(s): ECLAC
Author: Luis Hernán Vargas, Milena Lavigne
Regions: Americas, Global South
Country: Jamaica
Year: 2013
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This report is part of a series of national case studies aimed at disseminating knowledge on the current status of social protection systems in Latin American and Caribbean countries, and at discussing their main challenges in terms of realizing of the economic and social rights of the population and achieving key development goals, such as combating poverty and hunger.

Given that, in 2011, 174 million Latin Americans were living in poverty —73 million of which in extreme poverty— and that the region continues being characterized by an extremely unequal income distribution (ECLAC, 2012), the case studies place particular emphasis on the inclusion of the poor and vulnerable population into social protection systems, as well as on the distributional impact of social protection policies.

Social protection has emerged in recent years as a key concept which seeks to integrate a variety of measures for building fairer and more inclusive societies, and guaranteeing a minimum standard of living for all. While social protection can be geared to meeting the specific needs of certain population groups —including people living in poverty or extreme poverty and highly vulnerable groups such as indigenous peoples—, it must be available to all citizens. In particular, social protection is seen a fundamental mechanism for contributing to the full realization of the economic and social rights of the population, which are laid out in a series of national and international legal instruments, such as the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). These normative instruments recognize the rights to social security, labour, the protection of adequate standards of living for individuals and families, as well as the enjoyment of greater physical and mental health and education.

The responsibility of guaranteeing such rights lies primarily with the State, which has to play a
leading role in social protection —for it to be seen as a right and not a privilege—, in collaboration with three other major stakeholders: families, the market and social and community organizations. Albeit with some differences due to their history and degree of economic development, many Latin American and Caribbean countries are at now the forefront of developing countries’ efforts to establish these guarantees, by implementing various types of transfers, including conditional cash transfer programmes and social pensions, and expanding health protection. One of the key challenges that the countries of the region face, however, is integrating the various initiatives within social protection systems capable of coordinating the different programmes and State institutions responsible for designing, financing, implementing, regulating, monitoring and evaluating programmes, with a view to achieving positive impacts on living conditions (Cecchini and Martínez, 2011).

Social protection is central to social policy but is distinctive in terms of the social problems it addresses. Consequently, it does not cover all the areas of social policy, but rather it is one of its components, together with sectoral policies —such as health, education or housing— and social promotion policies —such as training, labour intermediation, promotion of production, financing and technical assistance to micro— and small enterprises. While sectoral policies are concerned with the delivery of social services that aim at enhancing human development, and promotion policies with capacity building for the improvement of people’s autonomous income generation, social protection aims at providing a basic level of economic and social welfare to all members of society. In particular, social protection should ensure a level of welfare sufficient to maintain a minimum quality of life for people’s development; facilitate access to social services; and secure decent work (Cecchini and Martínez, 2011).

Accordingly, the national case studies characterize two major components of social protection systems –non-contributory (traditionally known as “social assistance”, which can include both universal and targeted measures) and contributory social protection (or “social security”). The case studies also discuss employment policies as well as social sectors such as education, health and housing, as their comprehension is needed to understand the challenges for people’s access to those sectors in each country.

Furthermore, the case studies include a brief overview of socio-economic and development trends, with a particular focus on poverty and inequality. At this regard, we wish to note that the statistics presented in the case studies —be they on poverty, inequality, employment or social expenditure— do not necessarily correspond to official data validated by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Social Protection and Human Rights