The Case for Universal Social Protection


Everyone faces vulnerabilities during their lifetime


The Case for Universal Social Protection Everyone faces vulnerabilities during their lifetime

Isabel Ortiz

Countries across the world aim to provide social protection for all citizens or residents, generally by a combination of public social insurance and social assistance. Social protection, or social security, includes cash and in-kind benefits provided for children, mothers, and families; support for those sick and without jobs; and pensions for older and disabled persons. These benefit schemes are not only for the poor, as anyone may fall sick, lose a job, or have a child—and everyone inevitably gets old. Governments recognize the existence of universal needs among their citizens—reflecting vulnerabilities that all people are likely to face at least once in their lifetime.

At an international level, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by world leaders in 2015, commit countries to implementing nationally appropriate social protection systems for all (universal), including floors, for reducing and preventing poverty. This commitment reaffirms the global agreement on the extension of social security achieved by the International Labour Organization’s (ILO’s) 2012 Social Protection Floors Recommendation, which was adopted by workers, employers, and governments from all countries (see box).

Understanding different social protection policies

Universal Social Protection is a policy objective anchored in global commitments such as Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security," and other international commitments, including International Labour Organization (ILO) standards and Sustainable Development Goal 1.3, part of the United Nations Agenda 2030.

The Global Partnership Universal Social Protection (USP2030) was launched at the United Nations in 2016, led by the World Bank Group and the ILO, showcasing countries that had achieved universal social protection coverage.

A social protection floor is a policy and a standard consisting of a nationally defined set of basic social security guarantees that should ensure, at a minimum, universal access to essential health care and basic income security. It should ensure adequate benefits for children, mothers with newborns, the poor, and the jobless, as well as the sick, disabled, and elderly, through a combination of contributory social insurance and tax-financed social assistance.


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