Social Protection

Building social protection floors and comprehensive social security systems

The strategy for the extension of social security

Updated by Clara van Panhuys on 10.06.2015

The ILO’s approach for the extension of effective social security coverage, is as follows:

  •  The horizontal dimension should consist of the rapid implementation of national Social Protection Floors, i.e. a minimum package of transfers, rights and entitlements that provides access to essential medical care and provides sufficient income to all in need of such protection.

The objective is to build towards higher levels of protection, than simply the ground floor level. The metaphor that emerged is that of a “social security staircase”. As economies grow and fiscal space is created, social protection systems can and should move up the ‘staircase’, extending the scope, level and quality of benefits and services provided.

The SPF is part of the overall social security framework of a country.  It builds on existing social protection mechanisms that are already in place in most countries, other countries may have to start from scratch.

The ILO supports countries at all stages of development of their social security systems, so that they might build a long-term vision in line with the aspirations set forth in the up-to-date higher-level social security standards.

In order to translate into practice the aim of the horizontal dimension while recognizing that many middle- and low-income countries face financial constraints, the ILO recommends that they first aim to put in place a basic and modest set of social security guarantees.

The four essential guarantees the ILO promote, are the following guarantees that aim at a situation in which:

  1. All residents have access to a nationally defined set of essential health care services;

  2. All children have income security, at the level of the nationally defined poverty line level, through family/child benefits aimed at facilitating access to nutrition, education and care;

  3. All those in active age groups who are unable to earn sufficient income on the labour markets should enjoy a minimum income security through social assistance, social transfer schemes or through employment guarantee schemes;

  4. All residents in old age and with disabilities have income security at least at the level of the nationally defined poverty line, through minimum pensions for old age and disability;

Even if not all social security guarantees can be implemented at once, there is still a need to adopt the package of four guarantees as a policy objective, although it might have to be introduced gradually. In this way, countries do not lose sight of the overall objective of achieving comprehensive protection for all residents; and they are able to assess and be constantly aware of the opportunity cost in terms of other guarantees that are put on hold when taking a decision on priorities. Formulating a package of guarantees as a floor should thus lead to rational cost/benefit-based policy decisions.♦


Main Resources

Social security for social justice and a fair globalization
ILO, 2011


ILO's strategy to extend social security. An independent evaluation report
ILO, 2010