Development partners – bilateral donors and multilateral agencies, including United Nations agencies and multilateral financial institutions – engage in social protection in different ways, applying different emphases that reflect their individual mandate (Devereux & Roelen, 2016: 1). For instance, ‘the World Bank focuses on social protection as a means of reducing poverty and enhancing pro-poor economic growth, UNICEF sees it as a tool for achieving child wellbeing and children’s rights, while the ILO emphasises the right to social security and extending coverage to all’ (ibid.). For an explanation of the terms used in this section for the different types of social protection – see Types of social protection.
European Union (EU)
The EU promotes a basic level of social protection, as a right for all, and especially for children, vulnerable persons in active working age, and the elderly. The European Commission views social protection as helping reduce poverty and vulnerability and underpinning inclusive and sustainable development. The EU is committed to supporting nationally owned social protection policies, and to working with civil society and the private sector as well as the government in its partner countries (Devereux & Roelen, 2016: 3–4). In 2017, the Council of the EU adopted conclusions recognising the connections between sustainable development, humanitarian action, and conflict prevention and peace-building. The conclusions highlight the importance of coordinating humanitarian and development actions to ‘address the underlying root causes of vulnerability, fragility and conflict while simultaneously meeting humanitarian needs and strengthening resilience’ (Council of the EU, 2017: 2).
Council of the EU. (2017). Operationalising the humanitarian–development nexus – Council conclusions (19 May 2017). Brussels.
Council of the EU. (2012). Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, and the Committee of the Regions: Social protection in European Union Development Cooperation. Brussels: European Commission.
International Labour Organization (ILO)
Social protection is a core pillar of the ILO mandate on social justice and decent work. The ILO’s Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102), the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202), and other international social security standards are at the heart of the UN’s work of supporting countries to turn the human right to social protection into reality. As the UN agency with the mandate to work on social protection, the ILO is (co-)leading several multi-partner initiatives, including the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection (USP2030), the Social Protection Floors Initiative, the Social Protection Interagency Cooperation Board (SPIAC-B), and the Interagency Social Protection Assessment tools (ISPA tools). Through its World Social Protection Database, the ILO tracks country progress towards SDG 1.3, whereby countries committed to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors. The ILO World Social Protection Report 2017–19 provides a comprehensive analysis of country progress in building their social protection systems, including floors, and to ensure effective access to adequate social protection for all.
Flagship report: ILO. (2017). World social protection report 2017–19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Geneva: ILO.
Strategy document: ILO. (2012). Social security for all: Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems. Geneva: ILO.
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
The IMF did not engage directly with social protection until recently (Barrientos & Hulme, 2009). In the wake of the global financial crisis, it has supported spending on social safety nets in select countries (IMF, 2019). The IMF approaches social protection from the lens of it being an ‘important contributor to macroeconomic stability’, as ‘maintaining social and political support for sustainable macroeconomic policies can depend crucially on avoiding excessive stress on vulnerable groups’ (Independent Evaluation Office (IEO), 2017: 1). In 2018, it produced a guidance note on IMF engagement on social safeguards in low-income countries in both programme and surveillance contexts. Social safeguards comprise: (i) commitments to social (education, health, social protection) and other priority spending that supports national poverty reduction and growth strategies; and (ii) ‘Specific reforms designed to protect poor and vulnerable groups, for instance by strengthening social safety nets and improving the tracking and monitoring of spending on such groups’ (IMF, 2018: 3).
IMF. (2018). Guidance note on IMF engagement on social safeguards in low-income countries. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund.
IEO. (2017). The IMF and social protection. Independent Evaluation Office of the International Monetary Fund.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
UNDP views social protection as a key tool to transform its strategic vision ‘to help countries achieve the simultaneous eradication of poverty and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion’ into reality, as stated in its Strategic Plan 2014–2017 (UNDP, 2014: 11). UNDP defines social protection as ‘a set of nationally owned policies and instruments that provide income support and facilitate access to goods and services by all households and individuals at least at minimally accepted levels, to protect them from deprivation and social exclusion, particularly during periods of insufficient income, incapacity or inability to work’ (UNDP, 2016: 12). UNDP (2016: 21) sets out six guiding principles for social protection: protect and promote human rights; ensure non-discrimination; foster gender equality and women’s empowerment; be risk-informed and sensitive to environmental concerns; provide a continuum of protection; and promote universality.
UNDP. (2016). Leaving no one behind: A social protection primer for practitioners. New York: United Nations Development Programme.
UNDP. (2014). Changing with the world: UNDP Strategic Plan 2014–17. New York: United Nations Development Programme.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
UNICEF’s first global social protection framework (2012) made the case for child-sensitive social protection, arguing for the expansion of inclusive, integrated social protection systems. UNICEF has recently updated this framework (2019). Its work on social protection builds from the reality that children are significantly more likely to live in poverty than adults and face a range of additional vulnerabilities, with huge implications for children themselves but also societies more broadly. With the growing body of evidence on the impacts of social protection on children, UNICEF’s objective regarding social protection is to address child poverty and vulnerability, and ultimately transform the lives of children and families. For UNICEF, focusing on economic vulnerability is insufficient and its work includes a strong focus on social vulnerabilities, particularly children who are socially and economically vulnerable at the same time. The updated framework outlines an overall rights-based approach to child-sensitive social protection with a foundation of evidence at policy level (policy, legislation and financing); programme level (social transfers; social insurance; labour and jobs; social service workforce); and administrative level (administration and integrated service delivery). Across all of these levels, UNICEF is increasingly recognising that social protection has a vital role to play in supporting children living in fragile and humanitarian contexts and ensuring systems are shock responsive.
UNICEF. (2019a). UNICEF’s Global Social Protection Programme Framework. New York: UNICEF.
UNICEF. (2019b). A companion guidance to UNICEF’s Global Social Protection Programme Framework. New York: UNICEF.
UNICEF. (2012). Integrated social protection systems: Enhancing equity for children – UNICEF Social Protection Strategic Framework. New York: UNICEF.
The World Bank’s 2012–2022 Social Protection and Labour Strategy has the main objective of helping countries move from fragmented approaches to harmonised systems. The overarching goals of the strategy are to help improve resilience to shocks, improve equity by reducing poverty and promoting equality of opportunities, and promote opportunity by building human capital, assets, and access to jobs for people in low- and middle-income countries (World Bank, 2012: 1). The World Bank regards social protection as a poverty reduction tool, consistently linking social protection to labour markets and pro-poor employment (Devereux & Roelen, 2016: 2).
In 2019, the World Bank issued an update to its Social Risk Management (SRM) conceptual framework – the foundation of the World Bank’s first Social Protection Sector Strategy in 2001 (Jorgensen & Siegel, 2019). This update identifies that the ‘increasingly risky and uncertain world’ with disruptions driven by technology, markets and climate change among others, requires ‘a greater focus on asset and livelihood building programs in addition to traditional poverty alleviation and risk sharing programs, better integration between rights-based and risk-based approaches, more inclusive targeting, and consideration of global social protection’ (ibid.: abstract).
Jorgensen, S. L., & Siegel, P. B. (2019). Social protection in an era of increasing uncertainty and disruption: Social Risk Management 2.0 (English) (Social Protection & Jobs Discussion Paper 1930). Washington, DC: World Bank Group.
World Bank. (2012). Resilience, equity, and opportunity: The World Bank’s social protection and labor strategy 2012–2022 (English). Washington, DC: World Bank.
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) (Australian government)
Social protection is identified as one of the six priorities for the Australian aid programme, as part of its focus on building resilience (DFAT, 2015). The Australian government primarily supports work on social assistance as its focus ‘is normally on the poor and vulnerable’ (ibid.: 3). Australian investment focuses on helping ‘improve partner government systems to more effectively distribute their own funds’ (ibid.: 2). DFAT’s three strategic objectives are to: ‘(1) improve social protection coverage in the Indo-Pacific, (2) improve the quality of social protection systems, and (3) enhance partner governments’ ability to make their own informed choices about social protection options’ (ibid.).
DFAT. (2015). Strategy for Australia’s aid investments in social protection. Canberra: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Department for International Development (DFID) (UK government)
DFID’s work on social protection helps deliver its strategic objectives to ‘Tackle extreme poverty and help the world’s most vulnerable’ and ‘Strengthen resilience and response to crises’ (DFID 2019). DFID works with governments to build inclusive and sustainable social protection systems, with a primary focus on social assistance. Priorities are: investing in systems to increase their coverage, quality and sustainability; building systems that strengthen resilience and can respond to crises; and building more inclusive systems, focusing particularly on girls and women, people with disabilities, and the poorest and most vulnerable in protracted crises and in fragile states (DFID 2016).
DFID. (2016). Rising to the challenge of ending poverty: The bilateral development review 2016. Department for International Development.
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) (German government)
BMZ promotes social protection as a human right, to reduce poverty and inequality. It focuses on building ‘strong systems that reach everyone, including the most vulnerable… strengthening their resilience and their capacity to help themselves’ (BMZ, 2017: 3). Social protection is seen as an investment that benefits society at large, fostering sustainable economic development (ibid.). Germany’s social protection work focuses on three areas: ‘(1) social assistance to reduce or prevent poverty and eradicate hunger; (2) social health protection to prevent impoverishment and foster health; and (3) insurance schemes to improve preparedness and cope with new challenges such as extreme weather events caused by climate change’ (ibid.: 5).
BMZ. (2017). Social protection for equitable development (BMZ Position Paper). Bonn & Berlin: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Irish Aid is committed to supporting social protection as ‘a key instrument for reducing poverty and inequality while achieving inclusive growth’ (Irish Aid, 2017: 6). Irish Aid’s 2017 Social Protection Strategy identifies three principles for its work on social protection, to: strengthen social protection as an important and effective policy instrument; provide long-term system building support; and promote supportive policies and programmes (ibid.: 26).
Irish Aid. (2017). Social Protection Strategy.
Devereux, S., & Roelen, K. (2016). Agency positions on social protection (SDC-IDS Briefing Note 2). Brighton: IDS.
 https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sectors/human-development/social-protection_en (Accessed 25 February 2019).