Comprehensive social protection for all

A position paper of the ACT Alliance - Action of Churches Together. ACT is an alliance of 146 church and church-related organisations.


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A new positions paper of the ACT Alliance has been published in October 2014. These are the main statements:

Social transfers, social insurance and access to social services such as health care and education – all elements of what is commonly referred to as social protection or social security – are among the most important means to end poverty for all people in all its dimensions.

One third of the global population has no access to adequate health care. Older people are particularly at risk for economic insecurity and poverty and disproportionately suffer from a lack of social protection. This is a global phenomenon. Austerity measures following the financial crisis have also drawn attention to weakening social security systems in industrialised and wealthy nations.

Livelihood Security and Productive Employment

The focus of social security policies should be on the protection and preservation of livelihoods and contribution to full and productive employment and decent work for all. Social protection can have preventive effects by supporting structures and  conditions to withstand shocks and contingencies; reduce the risk of impoverishment, and to sustain livelihood security and support a self-managed and autonomous lifestyle.

Social security must be ensured for people who are temporarily or permanently unable to secure their livelihoods and their right to social services. This includes working-age populations who are unemployed as well as those who are underemployed, underpaid and over-worked. In particular, female workers are often severely underpaid or not paid at all, and unpaid domestic and care work still relies primarily on women’s labour.

Poverty Is Dynamic

Poverty is to be understood as a dynamic process. Even if extreme poverty often persists chronically over long periods, short-term but recurrent poverty must be considered. Social security must therefore aim to:

  • prevent impoverishment in the face of individual crisis such as unemployment or sickness, but it may also be scaled up and used as a means of mitigating effects of natural disasters and economic shocks;
  • support people to escape from poverty; and
  • guarantee a life in dignity without sustained poverty.

Experiences show that the best way to make sure that no one is left behind is not to focus on programmes targeted specifically at the poorest. Instead, focus should be on tackling specific situations evolving in relation to life-cycle vulnerabilities (in accordance  with the ILO recommendation 202 on social protection floors) and guaranteeing non-discrimination through making sure no-one is excluded and denied rights and access to social protection, including income security and right to social services.

In addition, the causes of impoverishment and chronic poverty must be taken into account. To overcome this, it is necessary to change institutions and discriminatory practices, norms, and social structures that hold people in poverty so as to include those who  are “invisible” and not easy to reach.

Social Protection Can Reduce Inequality

Social protection measures are essential elements of the policy response to persistent poverty, alongside increasing insecurity and inequality. Countries with strong social security systems can significantly reduce their poverty rates and their level of inequality.

If social protection systems are designed in a gender-sensitive manner, they can contribute to a transformation of unequal and unjust gender relations and challenge unequal power relations. If, however, proper attention is not paid to gender inequality, there is a  risk that women’s traditional roles will be reinforced, and that unequal division of labour and access to decision-making will become worse.

Social protection can reduce inequality by redistributing wealth and the benefits of economic growth more fairly, fostering social cohesion and inclusion and contributing to state-building. The social transfers’ component of social protection programmes  increases the income of the most disadvantaged. And the gradual expansion of national taxation which is necessary to finance the establishment of social protection systems will over time lead to a redistribution of wealth. Nevertheless, further analysis is needed

to ascertain the root causes of structures and processes that lead to the rapid accumulation of wealth. It is not enough to create redistribution mechanisms but it is necessary to challenge the accumulation of wealth and the idea of infinite economic growth.

Social Security is a Human Right

The right to social security is critical to improving people’s living conditions through basic income security and the right to education and healthcare, which greatly facilitates access to adequate, nutritious food, housing, water and sanitation, and to democratic, social, and economic participation. Hence, social protection contributes to the realisation of a number other social, cultural and economic rights. Social security is an individual right not linked to any role  and function in society. It is universal and does not depend on conditions.

The obligation of national governments is to uphold the economic, social and cultural rights of all people. The right to universal social security/social protection should be part of all development and economic policies and transformative social agendas including  international cooperation. In addition to the responsibility of the nation state to provide for social protection, the Maastricht Principles explain that, according to international law, “all States have obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, including  civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, both within their territories and extraterritorially.” Against this background, the debate on international financing options should be intensified, including innovative options like a Global Fund for Social  Protection and the use of transaction tax for social protection.

Without compromising the responsibility of the government, other stakeholders such as CSOs and faith based organisations can play important roles in the expansion of social security by helping people to claim their rights, advocating in favour of the development of social protection, monitoring the implementation of social protection, and participating in the implementation of social protection.

Read the full paper