You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser

Social Protection

Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems

Minimum income support and other non-conditional social assistance schemes

Updated by Christina Behrendt on 24.10.2018

Minimum income support schemes, also commonly referred to as social assistance schemes are targeted non-contributory schemes, which aim to provide a minimum level of resources to those individuals and households living under a defined  threshold of income or assets. Eligibility is usually determined by a means test which assesses the household’s level of income or assets against a defined threshold. In some cases, means-tests do not assess household income directly but use other indicators to determine the eligibility of the household (proxy means-test), or use alternative methods, such as geographic targeting. They can either focus on a specific risk or contingency (for example social assistance benefits for families with children, for older persons with insufficient resources), or for particularly vulnerable groups, or provide generalized income support to all in need.

While in most developed countries social assistance schemes play an important although residual role, in many middle- and low-income countries they have recently been gaining in importance. Particularly in countries with large informal economies and where only a minority of the population are covered by social insurance schemes, income support schemes are an important tool to alleviate or eradicate poverty and to reduce coverage gaps.


Programme design

Social assistance schemes show considerable variety in programme design. In some countries, social assistance schemes are based on a comprehensive legal framework which determines eligibility conditions, entitlements, and the rights and obligations of beneficiaries, while in others, comparable benefits are provided by often fragmented safety net programmes without such comprehensive legal framework.

In some parts of the world, social assistance programmes are evolving towards a “social inclusion” framework, which incorporates access to a range of basic services, particularly health care and education, and to economic opportunities. Access to health services for mothers and children and access to education by children are the most common features of such programmes. Some of these programmes require the active participation of beneficiaries in education and health prevention as a condition for support (conditional cash transfer programmes) while others focus on inclusion in the labour market (e.g. through employment guarantee schemes). There is also diversity in programme objectives and in the selection of beneficiaries. While all programmes aim to reduce poverty and vulnerability, some focus to a greater extent on reducing extreme poverty, while others target intergenerational poverty persistence by focusing interventions on children. This has implications for the selection of beneficiaries.♦

Based on  International Labour Office (ILO) (2010), Social Security for social justice and a fair globalization (Geneva) and (2010), Extending Social Security to All, A Guide Through Challenges and Options, (Geneva)

Main Resources

  • ODI's Transforming cash transfers - a beneficiary view of cash transfers in Kenya