1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics

From Chapter 5 – Towards Universal Social Protection

This chapter argues that universal social protection – that which covers the entire population with adequate benefits and is grounded in claimable entitlements, whether derived from rights or payments by institutions and individuals – can contribute to human security, reduce poverty and inequality, and build social solidarity. Universal social protection in developing countries can help protect living standards in general and provide basic levels of consumption to those living in, or at risk of falling into, poverty. Furthermore, it facilitates investment in human and other productive assets that provide escape routes from persistent and intergenerational poverty and that strengthen the agency of the poor. Universal social protection can contribute to human security, reduce poverty and inequality, and build social solidarity.

Social protection instruments discussed in this chapter encompass social insurance, social assistance and labour market standards, with a focus on the first two, both of which are associated with some form of financial transfer or income support.

The chapter is organized as follows
  • Section 1 of this chapter makes the case for a universal approach to social protection. It also summarizes evidence on the positive impact of social protection in reducing inequality and poverty.
  • Section 2 examines the changing patterns of social protection provision in developing countries since the mid-twentieth century, drawing on the experience of a number of countries grouped according to their development and growth paths. These examples illustrate how social protection policies have been forged and adjusted with different outcomes in contexts of rapid economic and social transformation.
  • Section 3 presents policy lessons and recommendations.

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