The Case for universal social protection

Author:Isabel Ortiz
Position:Director of the Social Protection Department at the International Labour Organization
32 FINANCE & DEVELOPMENT | December 2018
The Case for
Everyone faces vulnerabilities during their lifetime
Isabel Ortiz
Countries across the world aim to pro-
vide social protection for all citi zens 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 fam ilies; support for those
sick and without jobs; and pensions for older and
disabled persons. ese benefit schemes are not
only for the poor, as anyone may fall sick, lose
a job, or have a child—and everyone inev itably
gets old. Governments recognize t he existence of
universal needs among their citi zens—reflecting
vulnerabilities t hat 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 system s for
all (universal), including floors, for reducing and
preventing poverty. is commitment reaffirms
the global agreement on the extension of socia l
security achieved by t he International Labour
Organization’s (ILO’s) 2012 Social Protection
Floors Recommendation, which was adopted by
workers, employers, and governments from all
countries (see box).
But despite significant progress in the e xtension
of social protection in many par ts of the world,
only 45 percent of the global population is effec-
tively covered by at least one social protection
benefit, while the remaini ng 55 percent—4 billion
people—are left u nprotected (see chart).
Coverage gaps are associated with signific ant
underinvestment in social protection, particu-
larly in Afric a, Asia, and the Arab states. In m any
countries benefits are low, keeping people vulner-
able. On the positive side, many middle-income

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