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The Social Protection Floor: A policy framework for basic social security

The UN suggests that a social protection floor should consist of two main elements that help to realize human rights: basic services and social transfers.

MAPUTO, Mozambique, 18 July 2011 Receiving an education, being in good health and having sufficient income to participate in cultural life, to express oneself freely and to share knowledge and ideas – these are human rights that should be enjoyed by everyone. Strong societies that are just and cohesive, are built in this way, thus laying the foundation for peace and prosperity in the long term.

The Social Protection Floor (SPF) initiative of the United Nations promotes universal access to social transfers and basic services. Currently, 80% of the world’s population does not enjoy a set of social guarantees that enable them to face the risks of life. Ensuring a minimum level of social protection for these people, many of whom struggle to survive, is a necessity.

The Social Protection Floor is an economic and social need

Investing in a SPF is to invest in social justice and economic development. Social protection contributes to economic growth by improving labor productivity and strengthening social stability. In times of crisis, a SPF acts as an automatic stabilizer of the economy by maintaining aggregate demand. Guaranteeing a SPF to the world population is a considerable challenge, but data obtained from studies conducted by UN agencies show that a SPF is financially viable at all stages of economic development of a country, even if funding is not yet available everywhere.

Recognizing the importance and need for adequate social protection systems, the Secretariat of the Council of Heads of Agencies of the UN recently (April 2009) adopted the SPF initiative, making this one of nine priorities to fight the consequences of the current global crisis.

The SPF initiative focuses on a set of social transfers at the community level, of basic facilities and basic services, to which all citizens should have access in order to ensure the realization of the human rights enshrined in international treaties. While working simultaneously at the level of supply and demand, the SPF adopts a holistic view of social protection.

1. Basic services: Ensure availability, continuity and geographic and financial access to essential services such as water and sanitation services, food and nutrition, health, education, housing, information centers and life insurance, and other social services.

2. Social transfers: Ensure that poor and vulnerable people receive a basic set of social transfers in cash or kind, in order to guarantee them a minimum income and livelihood, and facilitate their access to basic social services. The floor includes social transfers (but also information and political rights) granted to children, people of working age who have low income and elderly people.

There is no single recipe for implementing the SPF. Each country has different social needs, their own development objectives, different fiscal capacity to fulfill them, and they will therefore choose a specific set of measures that fits their situation. Thanks to a coordinated response at the national level, the SPF facilitates and accelerates the creation and strengthening of social protection systems over time.
The SPF initiative supports countries in their efforts to build, improve, expand or redirect their social protection systems through high quality and low cost technical assistance from various UN agencies.

The initiative operates nationally and globally. The National Working Groups support the development of national definitions of SPF, which are integrated into existing frameworks of national development planning. Upon request, the partners behind the SPF initiative also provide technical assistance in support of all other activities related to implementation of the SPF, including awareness and advocacy at the national level, identification of viable policy options and concrete proposals, development of country-specific measures, evaluation of cost and long-term financial sustainability, analysis of fiscal space, support for implementation of identified policy decisions, etc. This global network of technical assistance provides support to country teams and is an awareness-raising effort in favor of implementing SPFs at regional and global levels.

The ILO and WHO are the coordinating organizations globally. The lead agencies and other agencies involved may vary at country level, depending on the capabilities they have to lead the SPF initiative in the specific context of each country. There is an ongoing process of close collaboration with development partners, including bilateral donors, development banks and NGOs involved in the area of social protection.

For more information, please contact:

Arild Drivdal, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:  

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; email:



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