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What is social protection?

Defining social protection is a complex exercise. Many definitions focus on its components and objectives, and may even differ concerning the components involved. Similarly, the definition may also differ when referring to a context involving a developed, rather than developing, nation.

Two approaches to the notion of social protection exist:

  1. Regulatory approach: based on human rights.
  2. Functional Approach: based on the contribution social protection can make to alleviating poverty and protecting economic growth.

Under international law, social protection appears in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Article 22 states, “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” At the hemispheric level, Chapter III of the Social Charter of the Americas, which was adopted in June 2012, addresses social development, equal opportunities and non-discrimination, declaring that “Member states have a responsibility to develop and implement comprehensive social protection policies and programs, based on the principles of universality, solidarity, equality, non-discrimination, and equity that give priority to persons living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, taking into account their national circumstances.”

The ILO Convention 102 of 1952, meanwhile, established minimum standards to be assumed by nations in the realm of social security benefits, as well as accessibility to said benefits. The Convention comprises nine branches of social security: medical care, disease, unemployment, old age, workplace injuries and occupational diseases, families, maternity, permanent disability and survivors’ benefits.

In accordance with Recommendation 202, ILO members, taking into account their national circumstances, must establish and maintain social protection floors including basic social security guarantees. These measures must ensure that all those in need have access to essential healthcare and security which assures them the basic income needed to access goods and services during their lifetime.

Recommendation 202 indicates that social protection floors should, at minimum, include the following basic guarantees:

  • access to a nationally defined set of goods and services, constituting essential health care, including maternity care, that meets the criteria of availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality;
  • basic income security for children, at least at a nationally defined minimum level, providing access to nutrition, education, care and any other necessary goods and services;
  • basic income security, at least at a nationally defined minimum level, for persons in active age who are unable to earn sufficient income, in particular in cases of sickness, unemployment, maternity and disability; and
  • basic income security, at least at a nationally defined minimum level, for older persons.

Recommendation 202 also provides that the basic social security guarantees must be enacted into law. In addition, when designing and implementing national social protection floors Members should combine preventive, promotional and active measures, benefits and social services; promote productive economic activity and formal employment through considering policies that include public procurement, government credit provisions, labor inspection, labor market policies and tax incentives, and that promote education, vocational training, productive skills and employability; ensure coordination with other policies that enhance formal employment, income generation, education, literacy, vocational training, skills and employability, that reduce precariousness, and that promote secure work, entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises within a decent work framework.

Since its inception in 1942, the CISS has performed its mandate to contribute to the improvement of well-being in the Americas through the strengthening of social security. The Conference has not been immune to changes in the constantly evolving concept of social protection, reflecting the new realities, needs and demands of American societies. The CISS focuses its efforts on the following five pillars of social protection:

  1. Pensions
  2. Healthcare
  3. Jobs
  4. Family allowances
  5. Other issues (e.g., housing, education)

In turn, these pillars are structured on two transversal issues: healthy, sustainable funding and gender perspective.