Social Protection is a Human Right

Social security is a human right, yet many lack access. International commitments exist, but action is needed. Let's bridge the protection gap!

At first glance, it appears logical and sensible, but it is not reflected in the minds and actions of many governments and businesses, as well as those affected: Social Security is a Human Right! International law firmly establishes the right to social security for everyone. This means having access to benefits that safeguard against things like lack of income due to illness, disability, old age, maternity, and more. It's also about making healthcare affordable and ensuring family support for children and dependents. You can find proof of this in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (UDHR, Article 22 and 25), the ILO Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention  (1952: No. 102), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights  (art. 9), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 26) or the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (art. 28).

Back in 2012, the International Labor Conference adopted the Social Protection Floors Recommendation (R.202). Governments and social partners committed to ensure that everyone has basic income security and can access healthcare throughout their life. This commitment – “all in need [should] have access to essential health care and basic income security which together secure effective access to goods and services defined as necessary at the national level” – is part of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, specifically in goals like ending poverty (Goal 1.3) and achieving universal health coverage (Goal 3.8).

Article 22 – Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Living in social insecurity
But even now, during a time when the world is facing numerous crises, including global health, social and economic issues, political problems, and environmental and climate concerns, over half of the world's population lives in conditions of total social insecurity. Already prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, almost ten per cent of the global population lived in extreme poverty. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, these statistics have deteriorated and are still deteriorating. Together with other development indicators, this indicates a straightforward reality: despite alleged progress over recent decades, the world remains a pretty miserable place for at least half of its population.

It has been known for centuries what can be done to improve the situation. Well-functioning, rationally designed and financed social protection systems are powerful and fast-acting tools against the social fall-out of four of the main plagues of human societies, namely poverty, inequality, insecurity, and avoidable ill health. 
Despite the increased global technical co-operation in the field of social protection over the past decades, the gap between what would be desirable and what can be found on the ground, still remains extremely significant. Particularly in around a dozen African countries that are unable to generate enough domestic resources to establish and maintain appropriate social protection systems for their citizens. Even when resources are noticeably insufficient, states still are obliged to make every effort to satisfy – as matter of priority – minimum essential levels and to protect the most disadvantaged and marginalized members or groups of society.

Article 25 – Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

How to close the social protection gap

So, what can we do? It is unlikely that the problem will disappear on its own. Even more unlikely is the idea that all world citizens will enjoy fully-fledged, high-end social protection standards in the foreseeable future. However, the global community does have ways and means to significantly improve the lives of people in the most deprived parts of the world. Most countries with a social protection gap are in a position to create the fiscal space to build and finance nationally adapted systems with appropriate policy measures in order to keep up with their obligations regarding the realization of human rights. The tools are readily available, and technical expertise is at hand. What is often missing is the decisive political will from governments or political pressure from their constituents. Only in comparatively few cases, however, will it be necessary to use new international financing instruments to establish a social protection system that is tailored to the country's situation and can be sustained over time with the country's own resources. A Global Fund for Social Protection Floors would be one such instrument. It requires international solidarity, proper prioritization, mobilization of adequate resources and, most importantly, avoiding prolonged indecisiveness and dithering. Because by doing so, fundamental human rights of half of the global population are being disregarded on a large scale.

Let us join forces to create a secure, healthy and just world for all! #SocialProtection #SustainableDevelopment #GlobalGoals #HumanRights #Dignity

The UN celebrating 75 years of the UDHR

10 December is celebrated annually as International Human Rights Day. In 2023, in the lead up to the anniversary, the UN’s Human Rights 75 Initiative focuses on a different topic each month. September focuses on Social protection, sustainable development, and right to development. Those monthly thematic spotlights aim to inform about different issues related to human rights, to enrich discussions, and to discover concrete ways to implement different aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UN High Level Event on 11-12 December is expected to lead to change and progress through concrete commitments by states and civil society organizations, and to feed into the 2024 Summit of the Future.

For further information on the celebrations of the anniversary of the UDHR:

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