Social Protection

Social Protection


Social protection is anchored in the universal right of everyone to social security and to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families. It derives from the principle that no one should live below a certain income level and everyone should have access to basic social services. 

Social protection is a powerful tool for reducing inequalities and building resilience against shocks and crises over the lifecycle. It provides a solid foundation for the realization of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Social protection is therefore explicitly mentioned in four Sustainable Development Goals, related to ending poverty (SDG 1); ensuring health lives (SDG 3): achieving gender equality (SDG 5); and reducing inequalities (SDG 10).

Under SDG Target 1.3 countries have committed to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable. National social protection floors (ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202)) should comprise at least the following four social security guarantees:

  • access to essential health care, including maternity care;
  • basic income security for children, providing access to nutrition, education, care and any other necessary goods and services;
  • 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;
  • basic income security for older persons.

Despite remarkable economic and social progress in the Asia-Pacific, critical social protection coverage gaps persist. For instance, 

  • Only 21 of 49 countries offer benefits to children and their families, contributing to high levels of stunting, malnutrition and child mortality;
  • Only 1 out of 5 unemployed work-age adults receive unemployment benefits;
  • Just 3 out of 10 mothers with new-borns receive maternity benefits;
  • Less than 4 out of 10 people in the region have access to health care;
  • Just over half of all older persons receive an old age pension and less than one third of the labour force is actively contributing to a pension scheme;
  • Less than half of all persons with disabilities in the region are covered by a disability benefit or allowance.

Social protection policies need to be grounded in legal frameworks, political commitment and backed by domestic funding. Social protection programmes in the region are often small and fragmented, with limited coordination among actors, which calls for countries to move towards a sector-wide approach combining contributory and non-contributory schemes to holistically provide coverage throughout the life cycle. With 60 per cent of the region’s labour force is in the informal sector, government-financed social protection remains key to ensuring universal social protection coverage. 

To leave no one behind, social protection programmes must be inclusive and provide adequate benefit levels. A universal approach to social protection where benefits are extended to everyone within, for example, an age group, is the best way of reaching those furthest behind. 

With developing countries in Asia and the Pacific only spending about 3.7 per cent of GDP on social protection, compared to the world average of 11.2 per cent, there is also considerable scope to increase investment in social protection to close coverage gaps in the region.

Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific

social outlook

ESCAP’s flagship publication Social Outlook for Asia and the Pacific: Poorly Protected, launched at the fifth Session of the Committee on Social Development on 28 November 2018, calls on countries across Asia and the Pacific to beef up their investment in people, pointing out how greater investment in social protection can be a game changer for ending poverty.

The report shows that increasing the region’s investment in social protection to the global average could help eradicate extreme poverty in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines. It would lift 52 million people out of extreme poverty and 328 million people out of moderate poverty. Such an investment would also lead to an increase in GDP growth and reduced income inequalities. The study cites examples of low- and lower-middle income countries that have been successful first movers in investing well in people, including Bhutan, Mongolia, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Time for Equality: the role of social protection in reducing inequalities in Asia and the Pacific

time for equality

In an effort to expand the evidence base in the area of redistributive policies, the publication illustrates that social protection is an effective instrument to reduce inequalities, and by so doing, contributes to the integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The report can be accessed here.


What is social protection? In Asia and the Pacific, 60% of women, men and children lack access to adequate social protection. 

This 2-minutes video explains what social protection is and the gaps in social protection floors that people in the region face.

Why do we need social protection? Investing in inclusive social protection is good for people, planet and prosperity and therefore critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This 3-minutes video explains how inclusive social protection can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific Calling for increased investment in people, this one minute video highlights how social protection can be a tool for lifting 233 million more people in the region out of moderate poverty.

The video, along with several other resources, is also available on the Social Protection Toolbox.

ESCAP's Work

escap's work

Members and associate members of ESCAP have repeatedly underscored the urgency of moving toward universal social protection coverage by adopting resolution 74/11 (2018) on “Strengthening regional cooperation to tackle inequality in all its forms in Asia and the Pacific”, calling upon member States to invest in social protection systems that promote access to essential services, resources and decent jobs, to end poverty and reduce inequalities; as well as resolution 67/8 (2011) on “Strengthening social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific”, calling upon member States to invest in building social protection systems to form the basis of a ‘social protection floor’.

The fifth session of the ESCAP Committee on Social Development, held 29-30 November 2018, also recommended the strengthening of regional cooperation on social protection, and encouraged ESCAP, in coordination with relevant United Nations agencies, to explore and develop a modality for regional cooperation to support member States in this regard.

Universal social protection and the Social Protection Floors (SPF) Initiative provide the guiding frameworks for ESCAP’s work in the area of social protection. ESCAP supports national and regional efforts by functioning as a knowledge platform for policymakers and stakeholders, and providing technical support to member States to build and strengthen inclusive social protection systems.

Tools and Methodologies

Social Protection and the SDGs

time for equality

ESCAP has developed various tools on social protection and the SDGs, including a policy guide, a video and an interactive infographic (coming soon). The report Time for Equality highlighted the linkage between social protection and the three dimensions of sustainable development.

The Social Protection Toolbox


The Social Protection Toolbox is ESCAP’s online platform to support countries in the Asia-Pacific region to build inclusive social protection systems. The Toolbox contains capacity- and knowledge building tools, such as basic e-learning guides, videos, infographics, fact sheets, games, in-depth studies, an interactive tool to identify national coverage gaps, as well as over 100 good practices for inspiration and cross-country learning. 

If you want to receive updates from the Social Protection Toolbox, please contact us on:

Policy guides on inclusive social protection

The ESCAP policy guides on inclusive social protection include:

why we need social protection

Why We Need Social Protection explaining the basic principles of social protection and the role it can play in achieving the sustainable development goals. 

how to design

How to Design Inclusive Social Protection Systems explaining how to design inclusive and robust social protection systems, focusing on tax-financed income security. The guide discusses key policy choices such as universal vs. targeted schemes and how conditions attached to social protection transfers can have negative impacts at the household level.

how to implement inclusive social protection schemes

How to Implement Inclusive Social Protection Systems explaining how to implement inclusive social protection schemes. The guide outlines the administrative processes, organizational policies and systems required to implement tax-financed social protection.

how to finance

How to Finance Inclusive Social Protection Systems examining ways to finance social protection, with a focus on tax-financed social security schemes. The guide outlines options for increasing investment in social protection through general government revenues, and briefly discusses social insurance schemes financed through contributions. 

The policy guides are also available in Russian

A fifth policy guide on social protection for persons with disabilities is coming soon.

Social Protection