22. Social Protection Floor

Sustainable Development

Decent work

Economy Social Environment Employment Protection Rights Dialogue
Relevant SDG Targets
1.3, 3.8, 8.b
Relevant Policy Outcomes

On this page: DWA-SDG Relationship | Cross-cutting policy drivers | Partnerships | ILO Capacity | Resources

The vast majority of the world’s people are unable to enjoy the fundamental right to social security; approximately three quarters of them lack adequate social protection. This challenge must be dealt with in order to protect populations, address ageing trends, expand sustainable systems and promote socio-economic recovery. The universal right to social protection must be built into national policies and laws and global and regional frameworks in order to reduce poverty, inequality and social exclusion and to allow such protection to act as an automatic social and economic stabilizer. Social protection both reduces poverty, and prevents people from falling into poverty. With political will, sound design, costing and fiscal space analysis, as well as inclusive social dialogue, even in times of austerity, social protection systems, including social protection floors, can be progressively established and strengthened (66).

The ILO policy on the extension of social protection is based on the two-dimensional strategy adopted by the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in 2011. This two-dimensional approach aims at the rapid implementation of national social protection floors containing basic social security guarantees that ensure universal access to essential health care and income security at least at a nationally defined minimum level (horizontal dimension), in line with the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) , and the progressive achievement of higher levels of protection (vertical dimension) within comprehensive social security systems according to the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102).

Social protection floors are nationally-defined sets of basic social security guarantees which secure protection aimed at preventing or alleviating poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion. These guarantees should ensure at a minimum that, over the life cycle, all those in need have access to essential health care and basic income security.

National social protection floors should comprise at least the following four social security guarantees, as defined at the national level:
  1.  Access to essential health care, including maternity care.
  2. Basic income security for children, providing access to nutrition, education, care and any other necessary goods and services.
  3. Basic income security for persons in active age who are unable to earn sufficient income, in particular in cases of sickness, unemployment, maternity and disability.
  4. Basic income security for older persons.
Such guarantees should be provided to all residents and all children, as defined in national laws and regulations, and subject to existing international obligations (67).

The concept of a social protection floor was initially developed by the ILO; thereafter, recognizing the importance and necessity of adequate social protection systems, the UN Chief Executives Board (CEB) adopted in April 2009 "the Social Protection Floor Initiative" as one of its nine key priorities to cope with the 2008–2009 global financial crisis. The initiative is led by the ILO and the WHO but involves many other UN agencies, the World Bank and the IMF, as well as bilateral partners, research institutes and international NGOs.

In 2011, the ILO in collaboration with the WHO published a report entitled “Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization” (68) , which had been prepared under the guidance of Ms Michelle Bachelet43 and the members of the Social Protection Floor Advisory Group convened by the ILO and the WHO. The report showed that the extension of social protection can play a pivotal role in relieving people of poverty and deprivation. In addition, it can help people adapt their skills to overcome the constraints that block their full participation in a changing economic and social environment, contributing to improved human capital development and stimulating greater productive activity. The report also shows how social protection has helped to stabilize aggregate demand in times of crisis and to increase resilience against economic shocks, contributing to accelerate recovery towards more inclusive and sustainable development paths.

DWA-SDG Relationship

Social protection is both an established human right44 and a central element in sustainable poverty reduction. The extension of social protection and the establishment of a national social protection floor is seen as key to reducing and preventing poverty; consequently, SDG 1 on ending poverty includes a target 1.3 which reads: “implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable”. In addition, SDG target 3.8 calls for universal health coverage, which is one of the components of the social protection floor, whereas target 8.b (a means of implementation) calls for the full implementation of the CEB Global Jobs Pact, into which the social protection floor concept had been incorporated. Moreover, access to an adequate level of social protection is a basic right of all individuals. Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security”.

The extension of social protection constitutes one of the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda; it corresponds to one of ILO’s current ten P&B policy outcomes and forms the basis for an ILO flagship programme, namely “Building social protection floors for all”. Social protection is closely linked to the other three pillars of the DWA since the stability, productivity and decency of jobs depend to a large extent on the existence of social safety nets. Access to and extension of social protection is the subject of many ILO standards, whereas the implementation of social protection schemes and the management of social security institutions is often (and should always be) realized through a process of social dialogue.

Cross-cutting policy drivers

The social protection floor initiative has a strong normative character, guided by The Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No.202) and The Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No.102), as well as numerous other up-to-date international labour standards (such as the Equality of Treatment (Social Security) Convention, 1962 (No.118), and the Maintenance of Social Security Rights Convention, 1982 (No.157)) with a focus on empowering constituents to develop socially effective, financially efficient and fiscally affordable policies for expanding social security.

Some social protection aspects, such as maternity protection, are gender specific and require gender-sensitive implementation strategies; some areas, such as child care, health care and care for the elderly, are often left to women who must find ways to cope with the additional burden, which limits their ability to access decent work. Ensuring appropriate leave and benefits, as well as publicly provided care services are enablers for decent work for women. This must be taken into account when formulating social protection strategies.

As mentioned above, social dialogue between government and workers’ and employers’ organizations plays a key role in designing, implementing and monitoring effective social protection systems, including those that seek to extend protection to the informal economy. Workers and employers contribute significantly to the financing of social protection systems and must have a say in their management.

Certain social protection strategies, such as cash transfers coupled with public employment programmes, could be used to combat environmental degradation and to foster climate change adaptation.


The ILO plays a leading role in strategic inter-agency initiatives such as the Social Protection Interagency Cooperation Board (SPIAC-B), the UN Social Protection Floor Initiative, and the Global partnership for universal social protection. Alliances and strategic partnerships with other UN agencies, the World Bank, regional banks and the G20 are being strengthened and dialogue with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are being pursued to keep the extension of social protection high on global, regional and national agendas. A multiplier effect is being created through South–South cooperation involving, among others the BRICS countries, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the African Union. More recently (in 2015), the ILO launched the Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors which currently involves 12 (mostly multinational) enterprises.

At the field level many social protection programmes are being designed and implemented in partnership between the ILO and other agencies, such as UNICEF and the World Bank, or through joint UN programme modalities. Several ILO development partners, including Belgium, Brazil, France and Germany, prioritize the extension of social protection in their cooperation programmes with the ILO.

ILO Capacity

The ILO’s work on the promotion of social protection floors is led by the Social Protection Department which includes specialists in, and provides advice on, legal issues, public finance, actuarial and statistical services, capacity building, as well as policy and research. Social protection specialists are assigned to the majority of ILO’s 14 Decent Work technical teams. In addition, a large number of technical cooperation specialists and experts work in national and regional social protection programmes and projects. Moreover, the ILO is a leader in global social protection research, and publishes every three years the World Social Protection Report.


ILO’s social protection platform can be accessed at www.social-protection.org. The most comprehensive overview of ILO’s strategy in support of social protection floor is contained in the book “Social Security for All” (69). The ILO social protection floor flagship programme is introduced through a dedicated website. The ILO maintains a Several data bases related to social protection can be accessed here. An overview of ILO projects active in the area of social protection can be accessed via the Department’s technical cooperation page. Additional material can be found at the social protection page of the ITC Turin.

43 - Former head of UN Women and current President of Chile.

44 - Set out in Articles 22 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

66. ILO. Preview of the Programme and Budget for 2018-19. Geneva : ILO, 2016.

67. —. Social Protection Floor. International Labour Office. [Online] 6 November 2016. /secsoc/areas-of-work/policy-development-and-applied-research/social-protection-floor/lang--en/index.htm.

68. Bachelet, Michelle (Ed.). Social Protection for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization. Geneva : International Labour Organization, 2011.

69. ILO. Social Protection for All - Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems. Geneva : International Labour Office, 2012.