A little later, the International Labour Organization (ILO), particularly through the Declaration of Philadelphia adopted in 1944 by the International Labour Conference, made a major contribution to the extension throughout the world of social protection and the values on which it is based, foremost among which are solidarity, human dignity and social justice.
Solidarity is the cardinal value of social protection. In practice, it is a series of mechanisms for the redistribution of income towards people who are sick, disabled or old, families with dependent children, unemployed workers and the poor.
In this respect, it is enough to recall that, as given effect through social protection, solidarity gives rise to two major forms of redistribution: vertical redistribution is the vehicle of social assistance, since it is intended to provide a minimum level of resources for the most disadvantaged; horizontal redistribution embodies the concept of social insurance, which may be distinguished from private insurance by the fact that contributions are based not on the probability of specific contingencies occurring, but on contributory capacity.
Social protection thus runs in close parallel to the ideas of the debt owed by each individual to the society in which she or he lives (solidarism) and the right of everyone to security in relation to life’s risks and to an adequate living standard (Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Thus also, solidarity contributes to respect for human dignity.
Human dignity encompasses the respect due to a human being in her or his very essence, that is, by reason of the presence within the person of a conscience, a soul and a spirit. Human dignity is the very basis of the philosophy of human rights. Indeed, the role of human rights is to guarantee respect for human dignity, and it is for this reason that they are universal. From this standpoint, and as a human right, social protection is based on recognition of the dignity of human beings. By endeavouring to reduce social inequalities, not in pursuit of a levelling egalitarianism but with a view to guaranteeing each person the means of achieving decent living conditions, it contributes to respect for such dignity. In this regard, social protection also stands as a pillar of social justice.
Social justice presupposes that inequalities in natural advantages are corrected through collective redistributive measures. Every person whose well-being is affected by circumstances over which they have no control therefore has to receive compensation, with the objective of everyone having the same options to choose from and opportunities for well-being throughout their life.
More precisely, social justice must be evaluated in terms of capabilities; that is, real freedom for different individuals to choose a specific type of life. Social justice therefore lies in a logic of equality of opportunity which respects the vision of well-being for everyone.
The more a society improves equality of opportunity, therefore, the fairer it may be considered to be. In this light, we might formulate the following definition:
Social protection is a series of mechanisms for the redistribution of income based on the values of solidarity, social justice and respect for human dignity. It has the role of ensuring that the most vulnerable benefit from economic progress, of reducing or removing inequalities related to negative factors which limit the capabilities of the persons affected, of broadening the range of opportunities available to individuals throughout their life and, in doing so, of facilitating equality of opportunity and contributing to the achievement of individual and collective well-being.
Values and benefits of social protection
In the years to come, social protection is liable to be increasingly preoccupied with the challenges that it has to face and the difficulties of increasing its income. It is therefore more important than ever to be aware of its values and benefits. At the international level, organizations such as the ILO and the International Social Security Association are working tirelessly for this purpose, which is not easy in a world that is strongly marked by the predominance of neoliberal ideas and the hegemony of purely economic values. At the national level, it should not be forgotten that it is necessary to teach solidarity and to consider that the real criteria for the success of a society lie, first and foremost, in its progress in terms of respect for human rights and human dignity.
Excerpts from the opinion article Social protection: Values to be defended! by Alain Euzéby, originally published in the International Social Security Review (Vol. 57, 2/2004). Reproduced with the kind permission of the author and the publisher, Wiley-Blackwell. Download the full text of the article in English .