Social protection encompasses policies that are geared towards the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights and towards protecting against uncertainty and risk, on the basis that people’s present and future well-being are affected by, among other factors, illness, difficulties in meeting the care needs of children, persons with disabilities or some sort of fragility, episodes of unemployment or underemployment, and the loss or substantial reduction of income in old age. Without adequate policies, socioeconomic conditions can worsen inequalities, vulnerability and poverty.
Social protection should aim to smooth out difficulties and overcome these barriers, with a view to furthering the economic, social and cultural rights of the population in order to build fairer, more inclusive and more solidary societies in which all citizens can be guaranteed a decent standard of living. This requires integrating a range of policies and measures across different spheres to promote the exercise of economic, social and cultural rights in the labour market, and in relation to nutrition, health systems, pensions and care provision, as well as seeking to ensure a certain level of income. For this, in turn, institutions must be capable of coordinating the multiple facets of social protection.
The State, the market, the family and the community are all involved in social protection, through the channels of contributory and non-contributory financing, out-of-pocket spending and unpaid labour. The many risks that may arise in this constellation are not well managed through the price system. From a rights perspective, the key to evaluating social protection policies is to determine how they respond to risk dynamics and their social distribution; in other words, whether protection systems diversify risk, and whether they widen or narrow the gaps between income, individual risk and desired levels of protection. This means considering both financing and the provision and regulation of services, and looking at specific needs arising at different stages of the life cycle, as well as differences by sex, ethnicity and place of residence, among other factors. It also requires political and institutional dimensions to be fully considered in respect of policies for ensuring the full and universal exercise of rights.
From this perspective, as part of its research work and the technical assistance it provides to countries in the region, the Social Development Division analyses and evaluates social protection and makes policy proposals aimed at building coordinated and inclusive systems grounded in citizens’ rights.