Social justice has been at the heart of social security developments for more than a century. Social security systems protect people against the risks of life, thereby reinforcing social cohesion, stability and solidarity.
This concern for the social dimension has been shared by the International Social Security Association (ISSA) since its inception, as expressed in the ISSA's constitutional mandate, "to co-operate, at the international level, in the promotion and development of social security throughout the world in order to advance the social and economic conditions of the population on the basis of social justice."
Founded in 1927, shortly after the creation of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the ISSA’s agenda was closely linked with the ILO’s mandate, "moved by sentiments of justice and humanity as well as by the desire to secure the permanent peace of the world", to ensure the protection of the worker and the most vulnerable in society. The ISSA soon developed to become the main international platform for the coordination and mutual support of sickness insurance funds.
Social security and social values
The expanding concept of "social security" was first formalized in 1934 when the US Congress passed the Social Security Act pioneered by President Roosevelt. Arguing the case for social security, Roosevelt linked the right to security with a return to fundamental social values.
"These three great objectives - the security of the home, the security of livelihood, and the security of social insurance – (…) constitute a right which belongs to every individual and every family willing to work. This seeking for a greater measure of welfare and happiness does not indicate a change in values. It is rather a return to values lost in the course of our economic development and expansion," Roosevelt stated.
No social justice without social security
A decade later, the Preamble to the 1944 Declaration of Philadelphia , which reaffirmed the ILO's founding principles, states that "universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice," and affirms social security and social protection as "fundamental principles" for the work of the Organization – principles that were "a matter of concern to the whole civilized world."
In 1948, speaking at the ISSA Assembly, the Association's Chairman Václav Nĕmeček (Czechoslovakia), echoed this universal vocation of social security:
"The achievement of social justice is possible only in a world in which war has been banished, just as permanent peace can only be established on the basis of social justice. We must redouble efforts to generalise and perfect social security so that we can achieve unqualified security."
Social security as a fundamental right
In the post-war period, the development of social security was closely related to the concern for social justice, social cohesion and human rights. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the "foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world" – explicitly names social security: "Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization (…) of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality," (Article 22).
Elaborating this principle, the ILO's Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention , 1952 (No. 102) established worldwide-agreed minimum standards for social security. Other international and regional conventions have applied or, in some cases, strengthened, the minimum standards set out by the ILO, and have confirmed social security as a right and a condition for social justice.
In Europe in particular, specialized international instruments set social security standards as means of facilitating economic and social progress, and social security is embedded as a human right in the European Social Charter (1961, revised 1996) .
"The underlying idea of these instruments," according to the former Council of Europe Director of Social Cohesion Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, "is to promote a social security model based on social justice."
More recently, the ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization , adopted in 2008, reiterates the extension of social security measures as a condition for promoting and achieving social justice.
Social security facing new challenges
Since the post World War II period, when most of the international instruments were adopted, the world has undergone profound changes, and social security systems face multiple challenges in both industrialised and developing countries.
A new economic paradigm that has sought to limit the role of the State, and the global financial crisis, demographic ageing and the lack of coverage in many countries require social security systems to adapt, while recognizing that social security alone cannot seek to resolve all social inequality.
A pillar of social justice in the modern world
In a context of economic globalization, and the accompanying pressures on labour costs, social protection systems - including social security - have proved resilient. They remain an "unparalleled instrument for making choices about justice and solidarity in society," according to Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, the ISSA's Secretary General.
"While social security must adapt and innovate in response to these new challenges, it is our duty to preserve and extend social security as a pillar of social justice in the modern world," Konkolewsky concludes.
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