These are some of the basic ideas behind the social protection floor (SPF) that is defined as a set of guarantees that secure the availability and provision of, and access to, an essential level of quality social protection and services for all.
Social protection and human rights in a new global social contract
The adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) marks the first time in history that the world community has accepted to be accountable for the achievement of global objectives. The MDGs can be considered a first “claim” of the poor towards global society and a first component of a global social contract. The SPF could be considered as part of a new global contract, in that it guarantees that all workers and citizens have the capacity to participate in economic, social, political and cultural life.
Social protection is particularly important for vulnerable people who have little or no access to services and transfers. Social protection is not just a residual safety net, but is one of the building blocks for a peaceful society in which economic and social development can flourish. It can also contribute over the longer run to more just and equitable social outcomes.
The underlying structural, social and political drivers of poverty, vulnerability and inequality have to be addressed in the context of a broad development strategy, in which social protection plays an important part. Social protection, such as cash transfers, can have an important direct impact on the reduction of poverty. However, the impact of such transfers on inequality may depend on the way these transfers are financed – by progressive income and wealth taxes or by more regressive taxes on products and services.
On the other hand, by providing the equal distribution of basic capabilities for all to participate in society, social protection can set the stage for policies that promote equality and fair distribution. Finally, it can contribute to key societal goals, such as employment, health and durable development – through the appropriate design and implementation of social protection policies and programmes.
A new global social contract
Social protection, the SPF and the MDGs can contribute to a new global contract between high-, middle- and low-income countries, as well as between national governments and their citizens. Our global economy has created many benefits which are very unequally distributed, both between and within countries. While a variety of aspects of the global economy need to be reformed, such as through the introduction of a financial transaction tax, the social and political sustainability of our global society and economy will need to be supported by a greater emphasis on human rights. A human rights perspective ensures that all inhabitants of our planet will share in the benefits of globalization.
Social protection programmes are tools that can help states in fulfilling their obligations under international human rights law, with regard to specific rights, such as to health, social security, housing, food and education, but also to the way they realize social protection (and other development) programmes.
National SPFs could be adopted as a key ingredient to a human rights approach towards achieving the MDGs before and after 2015. It will then be up to individual states and other actors to develop coherent plans of action.
By Wouter van Ginneken, ISSA consultant on the extension of social security and former official of the International Labour Office. Extracts reproduced by kind permission of the author. First published: IDS Bulletin Volume 42 Number 6 November 2011.