World Bank’s definition of ‘universal’ social protection – another buzzword?

The Covid-19 pandemic and its related shocks have revealed the value of public services and social protection floors. Institutions tasked with ending poverty like the World Bank are increasingly under pressure to support vital public services and play a key role in wider universal social protection (USP) discussions. The World Bank recently released its latest commitment to social protection: A Social Protection and Jobs Compass to “chart a course towards USP,” which provides guidance to Bank staff on jobs and social protection issues.

Following a limited consultation process, civil society were eager to respond to the Compass. Lena Simet of Human Rights Watch concluded that the Compass guidance note, “makes a strong commitment to USP. However, its guidance on how countries can get there is problematic.”

The Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs) have long been challenged on their claims of being pro-poor in their approach to social protection. A wealth of evidence has highlighted the flaws of the targeted approaches to social protection preferred by the BWIs, such as Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs), which have been shown to be ineffective at reaching the poorest – as the Bank itself acknowledged – prone to corruption, and less likely to protect human rights than universal schemes.

Instead of simply dismissing public social insurance and potentially creating costly parallel structures, we call on the World Bank to support countries in adapting their social security systems to be more inclusive.

The International Trade Union Congress released a statement citing “considerable reservations”, about the Compass as it “prioritise[s] the extension of targeted, non-contributory social assistance at the expense of social security, especially pensions.” The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) also responded, echoing concerns about the Bank’s ‘universal’ approach, citing incompatibility with the Bank’s focus on privatised and voluntary schemes, and a “lack of references and alignment with human rights and international labour standards,” such as social security minimum standards of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 102 and Recommendation 202. GCSPF also highlighted that both private finance and voluntary private schemes, which rely on individuals to have savings and often are inaccessible to informal workers, are considered by the Bank to be alternatives to public social security. The Bank’s preference for privately schemes and targeted systems, which are methods to define eligibility for programmes between the poor, not only “fail to cover the majority of the population but also fail to reach the people living in dire situations, [it] also prevents States from developing their own social protection systems,” noted a September report by civil society organisations (CSOs) Action Against Hunger, Development Pathways and Act Church of Sweden titled Can a leopard change it’s spots?.

Dr Laura Alfers, of global network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organising (WIEGO) commented: “We welcome the commitment by the World Bank to Universal Social Protection. As informal workers remain largely excluded from social protection, it is encouraging that efforts to extend coverage to the ‘missing majority’ are central to the World Bank’s new strategy. However, we disagree with the promotion of voluntary savings schemes, which are presented as central tools to expand coverage to informal workers, and as ‘alternatives’ rather than complements to public social security. Instead of simply dismissing public social insurance and potentially creating costly parallel structures, we call on the World Bank to support countries in adapting their social security systems to be more inclusive.”

‘Universal’ support, with a side of austerity

The World Bank’s influence over countries’ social protection spaces is significant; it describes itself as the largest funder of social protection, citing a portfolio of $29.5 billion across 71 countries. The Bank commits to the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (USP2030), a mission to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1.3.” Further to this, the Bank entered a global partnership with the ILO on achieving universal social protection in 2016.

USP2030 defines USP as “nationally defined system[s] of policies and programmes that provide equitable access to all people and protect them throughout their lives against poverty and risks to their livelihoods and well-being,” which can consist of “cash or in-kind benefits, contributory or non-contributory schemes, and programmes to enhance human capital, productive assets, and access to jobs…benefits/support for people of working age in case of maternity, disability, work injury or for those without jobs; and pensions for all older persons.” USP2030 also defines universal social protection as a human right.

UK-based CSO Development Pathways found that the BWIs not only do harm by prioritising poverty targeting, but have actively advocated for removing universal systems created by governments (see Observer Spring 2018). Both institutions tend to attach austerity-driven loan conditionalities focused on shrinking fiscal space and cutting public sector wage bills (see Observer Winter 2019), and national social protection systems are often the target of such cuts.

8 December 2022

Source: Bretton Woods Project.

Response from the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors to the World Bank’s new Strategy for Social Protection.

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With this statement, the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF), representing more than 120 civil society organisations and trade unions from all over the world, intends to react to the World Bank’s new strategy for social protection, published under the title “Charting a Course Towards Universal Social Protection: Resilience, Equity, and Opportunity for all”.

Recognising the human right to social security, as well as the central role that social protection plays in ensuring adequate standards of living, promoting inclusive and sustainable growth, enhancing resilience, and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs), the GCSPF promotes the right of all people to social security and universal Social Protection Floors (SPF).

The GCSPF therefore welcomes the explicit commitment by the World Bank to Universal Social Protection (USP). We further appreciate the strategy’s systems approach to social protection, emphasising that comprehensive and effective coverage requires expansions of interconnected social insurance, social assistance, economic inclusion programmes, and care services. The recognition that social protection is not just an effective tool to fight poverty, but also vital to help people face a wider range of challenges and vulnerabilities throughout their lives, is likewise important. The emphasis that social protection, as well as tax systems, can reduce inequality is also crucial. While ambitious plans to expand coverage are necessary to close the large coverage gaps, the World Bank’s strategy rightly highlights the importance of ensuring the adequacy of benefits and the inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable groups that may face barriers to access. Given the widespread exclusion of informal workers from social protection systems, it is encouraging that efforts to extend coverage to the ‘missing majority’ are central to the World Bank’s new strategy.

The GCSPF also agrees that social spending is a necessary and effective investment in human development, as well as inclusive and sustainable growth. We hope that the new World Bank strategy represents a step up of support from International Financial Institutions on social protection, enabling in particular low-income countries to put in place adequate and comprehensive social protection systems in line with people’s rights. Increased investment in social protection is particularly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated the incomes of the world’s poorest people and left low-income countries exposed to the current social, economic and ecological ‘polycrises’.

While the GCSPF appreciates the overall direction of the World Bank’s new social protection strategy, we have a number of serious concerns. Primarily, we are surprised by the lack of references and alignment with human rights and international labour standards. It thus appears as though the World Bank’s vision of universal social protection deviates from internationally agreed commitments and definitions, in particular social security minimum standards set out in ILO Convention 102 and Recommendation 202.

The GCSPF also disagrees with the role that private finance is accorded, as well as the promotion of voluntary private schemes, which are promoted as key mechanisms to expand coverage, in particular for informal workers, and presented as ‘alternatives’ rather than complements to public social security. Given the often low and volatile earnings of informal workers, and following the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, it is questionable whether individual savings accounts alone will offer much protection. The continued promotion of individualised and privatised approaches to social protection is all the more disappointing as the strategy recognises that the previous wave of pension privatisations in Latin America and Eastern Europe “did not lead to the expansion in coverage that early reformers envisioned, and the systems are also increasingly failing to deliver adequate pensions” (page 36). It is therefore crucial that the World Bank re-considers these efforts to individualise and privatise social protection and recognizes that the responsibility to realise the human right to social security cannot fall entirely on individuals but is instead a responsibility of governments. The GCSPF disagrees with the World Bank’s dismissive stance towards public social insurance systems and their ability to include informal workers, which certainly requires adaptations of systems but is clearly possible, as a number of countries are showing.

Even though the strategy is framed around universal social protection, it underplays existing efforts of governments to provide universal protection. The strategy claims that governments “have played a role in increasing access to risk management tools, but only in limited ways. [...]. First, they provide social assistance to a limited portion of the population who are either income-poor or vulnerable” (page 18). This ignores the fact that numerous countries across the income spectrum have made significant progress towards USP and introduced universal child benefits and social pensions.

While rightly emphasising the importance of reaching excluded and hard-to-reach groups, the strategy fails to recognise that universal programs tend to be the most effective way to reach all and leave no one behind. More generally, the strategy lacks a clearly articulated and credible pathway for the progression from largely poverty-targeted to universal systems. Therefore, we call on the World Bank to develop, through meaningful consultation, concrete action plans at national levels to move towards universality. It is concerning that in the recent past, the World Bank has discouraged or opposed the introduction of universal programs in many contexts. Moreover, we are worried that the World Bank is blurring the conceptual distinction between means-tested and universal benefits in an effort to reconcile the discrepancy between its endorsement of USP and its continued operational focus on narrowly targeted ‘safety nets’. While the strategy is less explicitly advocating for poverty-targeting than previous documents and refers to ‘progressive realization’ rather than “progressive universalism” the World Bank’s approach still fails to live up to the principles of social protection standards. Indeed, the persistent focus on poverty-targeting is evident in the promotion of ‘social registries’. While recognising significant challenges in their design and implementation, the strategy does not present convincing arguments or evidence that “dynamic inclusion” can overcome these challenges.

Despite welcoming the necessity of addressing unpaid care and domestic work, it is concerning that the World Bank appears to assume that the default provider of care services should be the private sector, with the state merely regulating or providing financing. Indeed, public care services are presented as if they were needed only in case of particular difficulties in the household. The GCSPF reiterates that care and education services should be publicly organised and accessible to all. The strategy could offer a more critical framing of the burden of unpaid domestic work, recognising the role of patriarchy, and that the impact of austerity on households is often cushioned by women absorbing both paid employment and domestic responsibilities simultaneously.

Finally, while appreciating the opportunities to engage with the World Bank during the development of the strategy, we regret that it was shared only in its final form, with no possibility to react to it. In addition, the finalised version did not take on board the comments provided by civil society in the process.

The strategy closes by stressing the importance of partnerships and collaboration between governments, donors, civil society, labour unions, and the private sector to achieve universal protection. As civil society, we intend to do our part by holding duty bearers to account, amplifying the voices of the people, and supporting the realisation of universal and rights-based social protection for all. We call on the World Bank to ensure the meaningful participation of civil society, unions and workers’ organisations in the operationalisation of the strategy at all levels.

November 2022.

The slide presentation and the webinar's recording of the webinar the “Work Bank, IMF and Universal Social Protection following COVID-19: The Good, the Bad and the Unclear” are now available. The webinar took place on 20 October, 2022.

In the webinar World Bank, IMF and Universal Social Protection following COVID-19: The Good, the Bad and the Unclear, representatives from different CSOs, unions, and workers’ organisations have shared their perspectives on whether, and if so, how, international financial institutions (IFIs) have changed their position on social protection in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on newly published evidence, we discussed what is new regarding IFI’s engagement on social protection, what counts as progress, and what are areas where IFIs may continue to fall short on realising the right to social protection for all.


Lena Simet, Senior Researcher on Poverty and Inequality, Human Rights Watch

Tavengwa Nhongo, Executive Director, African Platform for Social Protection

Daisy Sibun, Social Policy Officer, Development Pathways

Evelyn Astor, Economic and Social Policy Advisor, International Trade Union Confederation

Ghislaine Saizonou Broohm, Coordinator of the Department of Equality and Social, ITUC Africa

Florian Juergens-Grant, Project Manager, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

Moderator Rachel Moussié, Director of Programmes, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

OrganisersAction Contre La Faim, ACF (Action Against Hunger), Act Church of Sweden, The Africa Platform for Social Protection, APSP, Development PathwaysInitiative for Policy Dialogue, Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC-Africa/CSI-Afrique and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing, WIEGO.


Act Church of Sweden, Action Against Hunger France, Development Pathways, Can a leopard change its spots?

ITUC response to the World Bank’s Social Protection and Job Compass

ITUC response to the IMF’s Framework on Social Spending

Human Rights Watch: IMF/World Bank: Targeted Safety Net Programs Fall Short on Rights Protection

WIEGO and ITUC Africa: Building Forward Better: Investing in Africa's Workers (also in French and Spanish)

WIEGO: World Bank’s Push for Individual Savings Provides Little Protection for Crisis-hit Workers (also in French and Spanish)

Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD), Global Social Justice (GSJ), International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC), Public Services International (PSI), ActionAid International, Arab Watch Coalition, Bretton Woods Project, Eurodad, Financial Transparency Coalition, Latindadd, Third World Network (TNW)

Wemos: END AUSTERITY. A Global Report on Budget Cuts and Harmful Social Reforms in 2022-25

Development Pathways and Act Church of Sweden, Social registries: a short history of abject failure

Read more here and at

The webinar the “Work Bank, IMF and Universal Social Protection following COVID-19: The Good, the Bad and the Unclear” will take place on 20 October at 14:00 GMT+1.

Register here


Lena Simet, Senior Researcher on Poverty and Inequality, Human Rights Watch

Tavengwa Nhongo, Executive Director, African Platform for Social Protection

Daisy Sibun, Social Policy Officer, Development Pathways

Isabel Ortiz, Director, Global Social Justice Program, Initiative for Policy Dialogue

Evelyn Astor, Economic and Social Policy Advisor, International Trade Union Confederation

Ghislaine Saizonou Broohm, Coordinator of the Department of Equality and Social, ITUC Africa

Florian Juergens-Grant, Project Manager, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

Moderator Rachel Moussié, Director of Programmes, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

The devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing crises driving up the cost of food and basic necessities for many around the world, highlight the urgent need for all countries to make rapid progress towards achieving universal social protection.

While human rights and international labour standards clearly recognise that ensuring adequate social protection is a responsibility of national governments, international cooperation plays an important role in supporting countries to realise those responsibilities. This may come in the form of financial support to countries struggling to finance the full required social protection system, as well as technical advice on the design and implementation. International organisations also influence international and national debates on what social protection should look like, and who should pay for it.

International financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) that offer access to financing for cash-strapped governments can be particularly influential. Both have scaled-up their engagement in social protection in recent years: The World Bank is by far the largest external donor of social protection, while the IMF has recently published its first strategy outlining when and how to engage on social spending.

Civil society organisations, unions, workers’ organisations and some UN agencies have generally been critical of IFIs focus and track-record on social protection, stressing their perceived lack of regard to rights and labour standards, as well as their consistent emphasis on exclusionary safety nets, conditionalities and privatisation.

Then COVID-19 happened, and it seemed like everything was going to change. During the height of the crisis, the IMF has supported higher expenditure on health care and cash transfer programmes even when it meant higher fiscal deficit and public debt. A few months ago, the IMF published its first gender strategy. The World Bank likewise provided substantive support to the expansion of social protection during the pandemic and its brand-new social protection strategy is explicitly framed around achieving USP.

In this webinar, representatives from different CSOs, unions and workers’ organisations will share their perspectives on whether, and if so, how, IFIs have changed their position on social protection in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on newly published evidence, we will discuss what is new regarding IFI’s engagement on social protection, what counts as progress, and what are areas where IFIs may continue to fall short on realising the right to social protection for all.

Organisers:Action Contre La Faim, ACF (Action Against Hunger)Act Church of SwedenThe Africa Platform for Social Protection, APSPDevelopment PathwaysInitiative for Policy DialogueGlobal Coalition for Social Protection FloorsHuman Rights WatchInternational Trade Union Confederation, ITUCAfrican Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC-Africa/CSI-Afrique and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing, WIEGO.


Human Rights Watch: IMF/World Bank: Targeted Safety Net Programs Fall Short on Rights Protection

WIEGO and ITUC Africa: Building Forward Better: Investing in Africa’s Workers (also in French and Spanish)

WIEGO: World Bank’s Push for Individual Savings Provides Little Protection for Crisis-hit Workers (also in French and Spanish)

Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD), Global Social Justice (GSJ), International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC), Public Services International (PSI), ActionAid International, Arab Watch Coalition, Bretton Woods Project, Eurodad, Financial Transparency Coalition, Latindadd, Third World Network (TNW)

ITUC response to the World Bank’s Social Protection and Job Compass

ITUC response to the IMF’s Framework on Social Spending

Wemos: END AUSTERITY. A Global Report on Budget Cuts and Harmful Social Reforms in 2022-25

Development Pathways and Act Church of Sweden, Social registries: a short history of abject failure

Act Church of Sweden, Action Against Hunger France, Development Pathways, Can a leopard change its spots?


In November 2021 the ad hoc group on IDA20 of the GCSPF submitted Comments on the social protection elements in the IDA20 draft Deputies Report in which it criticises the fact that the World Bank continues to promote targeted social safety nets rather than social protection floors in line with ILO standards. The document is available here (pdf format).

The World Bank launched an early twentieth replenishment process of the International Development Association (IDA), its fund for the world’s poorest countries, aiming to support countries in their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and transition to green, resilient, and inclusive development. The IDA20 replenishment will conclude in December 2021 with a policy and financial package to support 74 countries between July 2022 and June 2025.

The ad hoc group on IDA20 of the GCSPF has prepared a position paper on the draft policy commitments in the IDA20 replenishment document. The document is available here (pdf format) and here (word format).

The World Bank launched an early twentieth replenishment process of the International Development Association (IDA), its fund for the world’s poorest countries, aiming to support countries in their recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and transition to green, resilient, and inclusive development. The IDA20 replenishment will conclude in December 2021 with a policy and financial package to support 74 countries between July 2022 and June 2025.

A view from the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors*
January 2019

Download the pdf version here.

As the International Monetary Fund prepares its new institutional view on how to address social protection in its work with member countries, the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) has prepared this note to highlight a number of policy considerations that we believe the Fund should take into account in its deliberations. We first review the failures of IMF policies as seen by its critics and by its own Independent Evaluation Office, which has prompted the Fund’s current re-examination of its approach to social protection. Second, we give our view on what the proper scope of social protection should be in the IMF’s work with member countries. We argue that the Fund needs to base its social protection perspective on the standards of the international community as a whole, in particular, taking guidance from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and from international agreements forged in the governing body of the International Labour Organization (ILO). We conclude with recommendations that the IMF should adopt to better assist countries to arrive at effective, adequate and fair systems of social protection that are fiscally sustainable in the long run, and that are maintained and can be increased as needed during times of societal stress owing to economic difficulties or natural calamities.

The damages of a narrow focus on fiscal sustainability

Trade unions, civil society organizations and many outside analysts have been critical of IMF policy recommendations and loan conditionality in the area of social protection. A frequent complaint has been that the Fund, in its determination to see governments reduce or even eliminate fiscal deficits, has urged them to rein in spending for social protection while paying little attention to the social and economic consequences of such action for beneficiaries. In our view, there were and are alternatives.

In July 2017, the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) issued a report on the Fund’s involvement in social protection issues that followed some eighteen months of investigation. The IEO report confirmed many critics’ views of IMF actions in this thematic area, namely that the Fund typically issued recommendations or loan conditions with a focus on the fiscal costs of existing or proposed social protection programmes, not their impact on, for example, reducing poverty or inequality. Thus, as regards old-age pensions, the IEO found that the IMF typically was not concerned with “social issues such as the extent of pension coverage in the population or the adequacy of the pension replacement rate” but rather with issues “such as fiscal sustainability and the short-term expenditure burden”.

The IEO report notes that Fund staff generally had little expertise in social protection issues, as demonstrated by the fact that “IMF staff often underestimated the time and complexities in developing and implementing means-tested benefits” which they advised low-income countries to adopt instead of universal benefits. The report also observes that the IMF’s approach to social protection was frequently at odds with those of other international agencies, notably in its preference for narrowly targeted benefits. It also notes a possible contradiction between the Fund’s preferred options for social protection reform and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in spite of the Fund having endorsed these in 2015: “The IMF’s endorsement of the SDGs has raised questions about consistency with its continued support for targeted (means-tested) social protection schemes.”

Before the IEO made public its report on social protection, in 2015 the ILO, the South Centre and the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University published an analysis  of 616 IMF country reports covering 183 countries from 2010 to 2015 with the aim of identifying the main adjustment measures under consideration. The period studied coincided with the widespread promotion by the IMF of austerity policies, which started in 2010 after a brief spell, 2008-2009, during which the Fund encouraged many countries to engage in stimulus polices to counteract the Great Recession.

As the report documents, in early 2010 the IMF’s executive board approved two papers prepared by Fund staff which encouraged governments to unwind stimulus policies that several had applied during the recession, and instead engage in fiscal consolidation. With regards specifically to social protection, the Fund encouraged reform of pension entitlements so as to reduce the State’s obligations, decrease spending on items such as subsidies, and reform safety nets to focus on “the poorest”. The report prepared by the ILO and partners examined austerity-related measures in both developing and high-income countries, but found IMF surveillance to be a “main contributing factor” to subsequent cuts in public spending in developing countries.

The analysis of IMF country reports showed that 132 governments (out of 183) considered reducing subsidies, mostly for fuel but also electricity, food and agricultural inputs; 107 considered rationalizing spending on safety nets and welfare benefits with the effect of reducing coverage, “often by revising eligibility criteria and targeting to the poorest”; and 105 discussed changes to pension systems such as raising contribution rates, eligibility periods and retirement ages or lowering benefits.

The report provides several examples of IMF staff encouraging governments to adopt such expenditure-reducing measures. It states that targeting of social programmes was discussed in 107 countries with apparent support from the IMF, even though some of the Fund’s country reports acknowledge a lack of capacity to target those in poverty, particularly in lower-income countries. The report lists the major problems associated with the means testing techniques used for targeting the “poorest”, including high cost, substantial under- coverage and political unsustainability.

The concerns raised by targeted rather than universal social benefits in developing countries are also discussed in a report on the IMF’s involvement in social protection issued in May 2018 by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. The report cites research showing that in sub-Saharan Africa the proxy means tests frequently favoured by the IMF as a targeting mechanism resulted in 80 per cent of poor households, on average, being declared non-poor and thus ineligible for targeted assistance.

Noting the IMF’s preference for targeted measures in replacement of price subsidies, the Special Rapporteur underlines the “tension between the short-term focus of IMF [on achieving fiscal savings] and the significant time it takes to … build up a proper social protection system.” The report also comments on the shortcomings of policies to create or expand social spending floors included in IMF lending programmes for most low-income countries in the past decade. It observes that their aims have generally not been met in sub- Saharan Africa, perhaps because the floors are included in the programmes as non-binding indicative targets, not full-fledged loan conditions.

Failures of the Fund’s past approach

Several recent examples of IMF loan conditionality and policy advice, notably in staff reports on country missions, indicate that the problems with the IMF’s approach on social protection highlighted in the three reports cited above are of continuing concern. In two Asian borrowing countries, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, the IMF obliged the governments in late 2017 and early 2018 to introduce targeting of what had previously been universal child cash allowances in both countries, despite the success the universal programmes had had in reducing poverty, especially in rural areas.

In Iran, the IMF similarly urged the government during its annual Article IV consultation in April 2017 to shift a universal cash transfer programme, originally introduced to replace fuel subsidies, to a programme targeted on the poor in order to create fiscal space for other expenditures such as bank recapitalization. The IMF made this recommendation even though it had earlier touted the success of the universal transfer in reducing income inequality and admitted that “administrative difficulties” would make it very challenging to determine who should be eligible for the targeted benefit. The Iranian government announced the end of the universal benefit in late 2017, an action that was praised by the  IMF but set off several days of protests throughout the country in late 2017 and early 2018.

As already mentioned, so-called social spending floors were included in several low- income country programmes in the past several years. However, these have been non- binding indicative targets and typically covered so broad an array of social spending, including education, as to be close to meaningless. One middle-income country that had such a floor in its IMF loan programme, Tunisia, spent 14 per cent less than its targeted floor over the 30-month period of its IMF loan ending in 2015. A Fund report on the  Tunisian loan attributed the under-spending to “issues” in the delivery mechanism of transfers to vulnerable households.

The largest loan in IMF history, the current US$57 billion loan to Argentina, broke new ground by including a social assistance spending floor as a “performance criterion”. This has the same status as the primary fiscal balance, currently in deficit, which the government committed to eliminate in 2019. The spending floor is thus a full loan condition, which could lead to suspension of loan disbursements if not met – although in practice the IMF’s executive board frequently grants waivers to countries that do not meet certain conditions. However, it is important to note that the floor applies to a very limited array of social programmes, collectively called ‘Asignaciones familiares’ (family allowances) that represent about 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). While the programme would allow for breaching of agreed deficit limits for one of four categories of allowances, covering some conditional child benefits and a pregnancy allowance, they could together not exceed a maximum additional borrowing of 0.2 per cent of GDP, a very small amount.

Most ‘big-ticket’ social protection programmes in Argentina are not covered by the IMF loan’s social assistance spending floor. On the contrary, one can fear increased pressure from the Fund to reduce spending for those types of social programmes, such as old-age pensions, if the government fails to meet its stated objective of eliminating the primary fiscal deficit in 2019. A December 2018 IMF press release alluded to such reductions when it urged the government to take action for “putting the pension system on a sustainable financial footing”. Among the deficit-cutting measures already announced by the Argentine government is the decrease of federal government transfers to the provinces, which devote a significant portion of their spending to health care.

Reduced benefits, increased pension eligibility ages and more stringent eligibility criteria for public pension systems were the most important austerity measures carried out by Greece during the period starting with its first ‘troika’ (European Central Bank-European Commission-IMF) loan in 2010 until the expiration of its last programme in 2018. While the IMF and other creditors were critical of the high level of spending for pensions compared to other jurisdictions, the high costs of the system relative to the size of the economy were due in large part to the drastic austerity package imposed on Greece from 2010, which led to the country’s GDP shrinking by about one quarter, the unemployment rate climbing to 28 per cent by late 2013 and the departure of many working-age Greeks to seek employment elsewhere. It was estimated in 2017 that, due to a series of restrictions and benefit cutbacks applied since 2010, slightly more than half of Greek pensioners – 1.5 million out of 2.9 million – received income below the poverty level. After the IMF’s role as monitor of a European Stability Mechanism loan ended in August 2018, the Greek parliament voted in December to cancel an additional round of pension cuts  that the IMF had asked be implemented in 2019.

 Reform of Ukr aine’s pub lic pension s ystem was identified by the IMF as a key component of the fiscal consolidation efforts the government needed to undertake when a new loan was announced in March 2015. With apparent reluctance, the Ukrainian government only followed through on its commitment to the IMF two and a half years later. The parliament approved a reform in October 2017 consisting of measures that would reduce expenditures for the pension system including cutbacks in early retirement options and restricted eligibility to pensions in terms of the number of years of work required to qualify. It also approved an increase of pension levels: in early 2018 two-thirds of Ukraine’s retirees were receiving the minimum pension of about US$50 per month, well below the poverty threshold. However, the government did not enact a statutory increase of the retirement age demanded by the IMF, and this failure is among the reasons that the Fund ceased loan disbursements after April 2017. (A new IMF loan to Ukraine for a considerably reduced amount compared to the 2015 agreement was approved in December 2018.)

In some countries, IMF loan conditionality or policy advice to cut back on pension spending in order to address fiscal challenges has been just as controversial as the Fund’s recommendations to do away with universal allowances or consumer subsidies. In  February 2018, an IMF mission to Nicaragua, a country that is not currently a borrower but has had three loans in the past two decades, recommended that the government enact “a comprehensive reform of the Social Security” system. The government proceeded with a pension reform two months later. The announced cutbacks in pension benefits were accompanied by increased contributions and followed a termination of reduced electricity tariffs for retirees, also supported by the IMF. The actions set off mass protests throughout the country in April 2018. The government cancelled the pension reform shortly after the protests began, but they continued for several weeks after other grievances came to the fore.

In the examples cited here, it seems clear that the IMF formulated its conditions or policy advice on the basis of achieving fiscal consolidation objectives first and foremost. Strong resistance against the Fund’s proposals, leading to their failure in many instances, reflect perceptions that the reforms did not balance equity and financial sustainability and undermined the primary objective of pension systems to provide income security for older persons. Likewise, the elimination of popular universal entitlements and their replacement by means-tested benefits that are costly to administer and exclude most of those who should be eligible, indicates the need for the IMF to develop a new approach towards social protection.

Rethinking the IMF’s approach

The Fund should take into account the human cost of its policy advice and conditionality, the impact on poverty and inequality and the impact on economic growth, as well as ‘fiscal sustainability’. IMF operations staff tend to interpret fiscal sustainability in a very narrow fashion, attaching little importance to the macroeconomic effect of adjustment measures and ignoring the Fund’s own research showing the negative impact of increased inequality  on economic growth and stability as well the recessionary impact of fiscal consolidation  measures, particularly in slow-growth contexts. Both of these impacts can make it near impossible for countries to reach short-term fiscal consolidation targets.

The IMF has acknowledged that it lacks adequate expertise in social protection and has relied heavily on the World Bank for advice on reforms of social protection, as well as health and education, but the Bank’s approach to social protection is controversial and often exacerbates inequality by eroding social protection coverage. In past years, the IMF deferred to the Bank’s expertise when it actively promoted partial or total privatization of public pension systems in Eastern Europe and Latin America. As described in a report  published in 2018, governments subsequently reversed most of these privatizations because of stagnant or declining coverage, inadequate benefits, lower pensions paid to women than men and unforeseen increases in the State’s fiscal costs.

The World Bank often supports poverty-targeted social protection schemes that offer low- value transfers under the guise of being ‘pro-poor’, and the Bank’s interventions in areas such as low-fee for-profit education have proved highly controversial. Moreover, senior Bank staff responsible for social protection have backed the notion of “progressive universalism”, meaning targeted approaches with the aim of eventual expansion. The IMF should be wary of proposals that do not challenge the introduction or continuance of the expensive and inefficient infrastructure of poverty targeting, including its reliance on proxy means tests that exclude a large proportion of poor households.

Developing a new policy framework on the Fund’s involvement in social protection initiatives and reforms, which calls on regular collaboration with agencies and experts that have a full understanding of social protection systems, their role and their impacts, must be seen as an urgent necessity. The ILO, UNICEF and other UN agencies have recognized knowledge and expertise on social protection. We ask that the IMF seek active collaboration with these agencies on the matter of social protection and establish clear boundaries on its own role. The following pages offer some proposals on what should be included in the new framework.

A desirable shape of social protection in the IMF’s new institutional view

The IMF’s forthcoming institutional view on social protection will need to specify the scope and shape of the government social spending programmes to which it will apply. While discussion remains as to what social protection encompasses, internationally agreed definitions exist and should be adhered to. Social protection or social security is a human right whose implementation is defined as “the set of policies and programmes designed to reduce and prevent poverty and vulnerability throughout the life cycle. Social protection includes benefits for children and families, maternity, unemployment, employment injury, sickness, old age, disability, survivors, as well as health protection. Social protection systems address all these policy areas by a mix of contributory schemes (social insurance) and non-contributory tax-financed benefits, including social assistance.”

This is the concept of social protection that the GCSPF embraces, while focusing attention on the social protection floor. The latter is understood to be a nationally-defined set of basic social security guarantees that should ensure, at a minimum, that over the life cycle all in need have access to essential health care and to basic income security, as per ILO recommendation No. 202 on social protection floors adopted in 2012.

Social protection, including floors, is an important component of the 2030 Agenda for  Sustainable Development, including SDG target 1.3, which reflects the collective pledge to “implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all, including floors” for reducing and preventing poverty. Moreover, target 1.3 commits all UN Member States to “achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable” by 2030.

The UN Secretary-General’s 2018 report on the progress in implementing the SDGs states that, “while extreme poverty has eased considerably since 1990, pockets of the worst forms of poverty persist. Ending poverty requires universal social protection systems aimed at safeguarding all individuals throughout the life cycle. It also requires targeted measures to reduce vulnerability to disasters and to address specific underserved geographic areas within each country,” noting further that based on 2016 estimates, only 45 per cent of the world’s population was effectively covered by at least one social protection cash benefit.

Social protection inescapably belongs in the public sector and as a part of public finance, since governments are uniquely qualified to oversee and enforce it. The outcomes of privatized social protection systems have been deeply flawed. For example, an ILO report cited above on the experience with privatized pension systems in Eastern Europe and Latin America concludes: “With sixty per cent of countries that had privatized public mandatory pensions having reversed the privatization, and with the accumulated evidence of negative social and economic impacts, it can be affirmed that the privatization experiment has failed.”

Targeted versus universal social protection schemes

While universal social protection schemes may only reach specific groups, this is not determined by income or wealth. For example, a universal child benefit is only given to children, an entitlement determined by age, not economic status. One of the most well cited illustrations of a universal social protection system is that of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, which for that reason boasts the slogan ‘from the cradle to the grave’ in that it is there for anyone and everyone whenever they should need it.

Universalism is based on a commitment to a redistributive economic framework where taxation is used as a means to rebalance economies and reduce levels of inequality while reducing the economic anxiety often experienced by people in precarious or vulnerable situations. Well-designed social protection will redistribute income from those with higher lifetime earnings to those with lower lifetime earnings, and from the healthy and abled to those sick, disabled or unable to work, in order that they may live a life of dignity and to safeguard their human rights.

In refusing to differentiate eligibility between rich and poor, the stigmatization of class barriers is alleviated by avoiding policies that separate social protection recipients from others. For this reason, renowned sociologist Peter Townsend argued in 1976 that a poverty-targeted social protection system “fosters hierarchical relationships of superiority and inferiority in society, diminishes rather than enhances the status of the poor, and has the effect of widening rather than reducing social inequalities ... It lumps the unemployed, sick, widowed, aged and others into one undifferentiated and inevitably stigmatised category.”

Research by Development Pathways shows that poverty-targeted schemes have low budgets and, as a result, the demands on those at higher incomes to finance them from taxes are much less than when universal schemes are implemented. In addition, high rates  of exclusion accompany means-tested programmes, thereby actively hurting the social contract and hindering social mobility.

In calling for universal social protection systems, the GCSPF is not calling for a “universal basic income”. Much of the discussion in recent years around UBI – sometimes referred to as citizens’ income – has conflated universal social protection with UBI. The distinction is well made in a 2018 report published by the ILO that defines UBI as a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all citizens/residents, without exclusion, means test or work requirement. The impact of UBI depends on funding and its ability to suit the needs of the people that it seeks to cover. Regressive budget-neutral UBI proposals, for example, are not in line with ILO standards and will lead to further inequalities.

The IMF should eschew making recommendations to slash employers’ social insurance contributions – so-called labour taxes – as they would severely undermine social insurance systems by constraining their resources and making them unsustainable. Those recommendations have been made with a view to stimulating enterprise, as in the IMF  Paper on fiscal policy and long-term growth, 2015 and World Economic Outlook, April  2016. There are other ways to promote entrepreneurship.

How the IMF should approach social protection issues

Governments have mandated the IMF to oversee the macroeconomic policies of its member countries in the interest of global financial and economic stability. At the same time, every national government has a fundamental responsibility based on human rights and – in most cases – its political constitution to provide a basic level of social protection to its people. The IMF needs to respect the social responsibilities of governments while carrying out its macroeconomic mandate, which exists at both country-focused and systemic levels.

The development by the IMF of an institutional view on social protection should involve a comprehensive evaluation of the Fund’s current approach and take into account the points raised in this note and by others. Critically, this process should not be viewed as an opportunity for the IMF to increase loan conditionality. Instead, the Fund should support the efforts of governments to develop an adequate, effective and fair social protection system that is fiscally sustainable. When working on the country level, the appropriate focus of the IMF in the realm of social protection is in protecting its financing. We call for strengthening the Fund’s effectiveness in helping countries to identify and mobilize adequate resources for their social protection floors and in protecting these floors as inviolable.

As noted earlier, the IMF should cooperate intensively with the specialized agencies of the United Nations that do have deep expertise in social protection, including the ILO, UNICEF, Food and Agricultural Organization and with other international centres of expertise. This process should involve a clear understanding – both within the IMF and between institutions – of where the IMF’s boundaries are with regards to involvement in social protection in line with its institutional mandate.

To deepen ongoing linkages in this regard, IMF should inform the ILO and other UN agencies when social protection is expected to be a significant factor in new country programmes or policy advice, notably during Article IV missions. Relevant staff from these agencies should be invited to join the country missions when they request it. To bolster the prospects of deeper staff interaction with fellow international agencies at country level, the IMF should actively participate in the Social Protection Inter-Agency Cooperation Board (SPIAC-B), as recommended by the IEO report discussed earlier.

It is also important that the IMF engage intensively with local civil society, trade unions and academic experts when undertaking country missions, as well with line ministries and relevant legislators, including at the sub-national level when appropriate. The point is not to check off consultation boxes on a mission report form, but rather to deepen IMF staff understanding of the domestic economic, social and political situation than might be formed from discussions exclusively with finance ministry and central bank interlocutors.

The GCSPF’s insistence on adequate social protection systems is grounded in the human right to social protection, but it is also important to underline its positive developmental impacts. Child and maternity benefits increase productivity and help to incorporate women into the labour market; disability and old-age pensions support household income; unemployment support assists those without jobs and has a counter-cyclical function during economic downturns. Adequate social protection benefit levels reduce poverty and inequality, are critical for sustainable economic growth, promote human development, social cohesion and political stability.

IMF staff should be aware that, when advising governments on policies for sustainable social protection systems, they must take account of the net impact on the livelihoods of all parts of the population not only resulting directly from the envisaged social protection policies but also from tax policy and related policy changes taken to assure fiscal sustainability.

In addition to helping countries plan sustainable financing for adequate, effective and financially sustainable social protection systems, including floors, the IMF needs to focus on helping member governments protect their ability to maintain and as needed increase their social protection programmes during times of economic difficulty or natural disaster. Undertaking austerity or rolling back emergency support of vulnerable populations in the early stages of recovery should never be recommended, not only for humanitarian reasons but also to avoid undermining the recovery itself. In the past, IMF has often been excessively optimistic about the economic resiliency of some of its member countries after an economic crisis.

As shown in this note, past IMF practice of involving itself in national social protection systems primarily in order to meet short-term fiscal consolidation goals has led to highly problematic policy advice and loan conditionality. The traditional approach has led to the adoption of adjustment measures that have weakened social protection systems, increased inequality and heightened social polarization, not to mention imposing immense human and economic costs. In its new framework on social protection policy, the IMF should adopt an approach that is consistent with and supportive of the scope and objectives of social protection as defined by the international community, notably in the SDGs. The key role the IMF should play is in protecting social protection systems as part of its mandate to prevent crises and assist countries recovering from crises.

16 January 2019


* This note was prepared by the following authors at the request of the GCSPF: Peter Bakvis (International Trade Union Confederation), Miriam Brett (Bretton Woods Project), Barry Herman (Social Justice in Global Development).

The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) expressed its deep concerns about the report’s findings and the IMF's approach towards social protection in general.  The statement was sent to Ms. Christine Lagarde  (Managing Director of the IMF) and the Executive Directors of the IMF in order to draw their attention on the issue and in the hope to influence a reconsideration of their position.

Download here the pdf version of the Statement.

25th of October 2017

Dear Ms. Lagarde,

Dear Executive Directors,

Following the recent publication of the Independent Evaluation Office’s (IEO) evaluation report on ‘The IMF and Social Protection,’ the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPFs) – a global network of over 90 civil society and trade union organisations, representing millions of people worldwide - wishes to express its concerns on the findings of the evaluation report and  the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) approach towards social protection more widely, as it diverges strongly from the internationally-agreed agenda on social protection.

The objective of universal, rights-based, social protection is enshrined in numerous international laws and agreements, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art 25a), ILO Convention 102 on Social Security and Recommendation 202 on Social Protection Floors, and most recently the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Target 1.3). It is also an agreed objective of the Global Partnership on Universal Social Protection, bringing together the World Bank, ILO, OECD, African Union, IADB, and numerous other international organisations, national governments, lending institutions and civil society organisations to promote the expansion of social protection to all.

Therefore, we are particularly concerned with the report’s affirmation that the IMF’s approach towards social protection has been principally oriented around the desire to reduce social protection coverage and contain expenditure, rather than ensuring adequate levels of protection for all. As regards old-age pensions, for instance, the report explains that the IMF has not been interested in ‘social issues such as the extent of pension coverage in the population or the adequacy of the pension replacement rate’ but rather in ‘macro-critical issues associated with existing pension systems, such as fiscal sustainability and the short-term expenditure burden’. Similarly, the report states that the IMF’s approach towards reforming social protection to strictly target social safety nets to the poorest has been motivated by a desire to ‘provide value for money and be affordable’.

In keeping with the normative framework established in ILO Recommendation 202 (2012) on social protection floors, we affirm that the key objective of social protection is the universal provision of economic and social security through basic guarantees on income and essential social services throughout the life course. While we consider long-term budgetary sustainability to be important in order to safeguard social protection systems for future generations,  a definition of affordability based solely on considerations of fiscal cost and expenditure burdens will only compromise the adequate financing of social protection systems and their effective functioning. Therefore, policies aimed at macroeconomic growth and stability should be consistent with this framework, thereby safeguarding individuals from the myriad risks inherent in market economies.

We also would like to stress that the IMF’s focus on budgetary cost-savings appears to overlook the fact that adequate, comprehensive and universally accessible social protection has been proven to have important economic benefits. During the financial and economic crisis 2008/2009 evidence showed that social protection served as an important economic stabiliser to create and maintain sustainable market economies through aggregate demand. Moreover, numerous studies confirm the importance of social protection in supporting educational attainment and skill development, and promoting access to quality employment and reducing informal work. Nevertheless, the IMF’s appears to view social protection as merely a cost that must be contained and not an investment in human capital, economic growth and sustainable development.

While the IEO report leaves out any evaluation of whether the IMF’s approach to social protection reform has had any negative impacts on beneficiaries or on national development overall, several studies have highlighted the negative social impacts of the IMF’s policies. The targeting mechanisms promoted by the IMF, usually by proxy means test (PMT), have been shown to typically exclude 50 per cent or more of those that should be eligible by virtue of income level, according to research published by the ILO and Development Pathways[1]. The evidence base clearly shows that PMTs are unfit for purpose where the goal is universal social protection coverage. A recent report[2] from the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and Public Debt has moreover highlighted how IMF programme conditionalities on social protection have contributed to increased poverty and financial insecurity, greater income inequality, higher levels of informality and increased gender inequalities. The reforms have also at times been associated with greater civil and political unrest, as recently demonstrated in Romania and Greece. An approach to social protection that leaves a high proportion of low-income people without any assistance, and which contributes to such negative social and political impacts, must be immediately reconsidered.

We also note with concern that the report affirms that over 70 per cent of the surveyed IMF staff working on social protection reported having minimal to no interaction with the ILO, despite the existence of binding ILO standards in this area as well as the more developed technical expertise of the ILO in this field. While the recommendations of the report suggest that the IMF engage actively in inter-institutional cooperation on social protection and find ways to work constructively with development partners, it also does not specifically call for work with the ILO, who has the principal mandate for addressing this issue. We stress that such joint cooperation would be important going forward.

With regard to the development of a clear strategic framework on social protection, setting out the scope and objectives of the IMF’s involvement, we wish to stress that such a strategic framework must be clearly aligned with the wider international agenda on social protection and the SDGs specifically. As the IMF is committed, within the scope of its mandate, to the global partnership for sustainable development and declares officially that it supports its member countries in the pursuit of the SDGs, it appears unreasonable to embark on a social protection strategy that is counter-productive to the attainment of the SDGs and poverty reduction in general. Moreover, as concerns the financing of social protection, we would encourage the IMF to deepen its role in the eradication of tax fraud and evasion at the national and international levels, and to recommend to member countries abetter implementation of taxation policies, and the introduction of new sources of revenue.

With regard to the recommendation that the IMF provide tailored advice for particular country situations, especially for countries where social protection is judged to be a macro-critical priority, we wish to emphasise again that any advice given by the IMF on social protection must be aligned and clearly coordinated with those international institutions that have greater expertise on social protection and hold a direct mandate to address these issues, in particular the ILO. Furthermore, we stress that the expertise and participation of civil society organizations and trade unions in social protection reforms at the country level is crucial for the success and acceptance of such reforms.

In short, the Global Coalition urges the International Monetary Fund to consider the concerns raised here in developing the IMF strategy on social protection, and to respect the primary mandate of the ILO and other relevant international actors on social protection.

We welcome the IEO report's recommendation for the IMF's Executive Board to review its work in this area as an important opportunity for the IMF to change its current approach on social protection and to ensure henceforth that IMF programmes are coherent with the internationally-agreed objective of universal, rights-based social protection, as enshrined in the SDGs and laid-out by the ILO Recommendation 202.

Given the on the ground expertise of our members, we would like to express our availability to assist in the IMF’s development of a new social protection strategy.


Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors

List of member organisations:

Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) and Global Network Asia
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
Development Research and Training (DRT)
Friends of the Disabled Association (FDA)
Global Social Justice
Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary
International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA)
International Presentation Association
JusticeMakers Bangladesh
National Union of Organizations on Intellectual Disability
Phenix Center for Economic & Informatics Studies
Social Watch
Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII)
VIVAT International
World Solidarity - Wereldsolidariteit - Solidarité Mondiale
Dullah Omar Institute, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
International Movement ATD Fourth World
Passionists International
Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR)
Asia-Europe People’s Forum - Secretariat for Asia
International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW)
Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries
Social Justice in Global Development
South Asia Alliance for Poverty Eradication (SAAPE)
ActionAid International
Advocacy etc.
Consultancy and Training for NGOs
Africa Platform for Social Protection (APSP)
Amel Association International
Association Points Cœur
B.I.R.S.A. Mines Monitoring Centre
Brot für die Welt
Cambodian Women Movement Organisation (CWMO) and Global Network Cambodia
Centro de Implementación de Políticas Públicas para la Equidad y el Crecimiento (CIPPEC)
Chipembere Community Development Organization
Church of Sweden
Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) and Global Network Cambodia
Concern Worldwide
Concern Worldwide UK
Congregation of The Mission
Corporación Solidaridad y Desarrollo - SODEM
Daughters of Charity
Democracy and Workers Rights Centre (DWRC) and Global Network Arab Countries
Development Initiatives
Dominican Leadership Conference
European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN)
Franciscans International
Free Trade Union Development Center
Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
Gambia Future Hands On Disable People
General Confederation of Trade Unions (GCTU)
HelpAge International
International Alliance of Women (IAW)
International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW)
International Disability Alliance (IDA)
International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW)
International Kolping Society (IKS)
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
Labour and Economic Development Research Institute (LEDRIZ) and Global Network Zimbabwe
Labour and Education Foundation (LEF) and Global Network Pakistan
Labour Education and Research Network (LEARN) and Global Network Asia
Labour Research Service and Global Network Africa
Labour Resource and Research Institute (LARRI) Global Network Namibia
Lanka Net
Loretto Community
Marianists International
Modern University for Business and Science (MUBS)
National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE)
Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP)-Asia
NGO Forum for Health
Platform for Social Protection
Programa Laboral de Desarrollo (PLADES) and Global Network Latin America
Proyecto de Derechos Econónimos, Sociales y Culturales (PRODESC)
Psychological Research & Development Council-India (PRDC India)
Salesian Missions
Samadeepa Development Center
Save the Children
Service and Research Institute on Family and Children (SERFAC)
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
The Grail
Trade Union Right Centre (TURC)
Trickle Up
UK Child Poverty Action Group
UNANIMA International
Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail
Workers Education Association Zambia WEAZ and Global Network Zambia
World Federalist Movement
Youth For Action

Individual members:

Daniel Horn (UK)
Michael Cichon (Germany)


[1] ILO and Development Pathways (2017) Exclusion by design: an assessment of the effectiveness of the proxy means test poverty targeting methodology

[2] UN Human Rights Council (2017) Report of the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights

The Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors (GCSPF) expressed its deep concerns about the report’s findings and the IMF’s approach towards social protection in general. The statement was sent to Ms. Christine Lagarde (Managing Director of the IMF) and the Executive Directors of the IMF in order to draw their attention on the issue and in the hope to influence a reconsideration of their position. October 2017.

Read here the complete oral statement.

On June 30th, the World Bank Group and the ILO launched a joint mission and plan of action:  Universal social protection to ensure that no one is left behind.

Universal coverage and access to social protection are central to ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, the World Bank Group's twin goals by 2030. Universal social protection coverage is at the core of the ILO’s mandate, guided by its standards including the Social Protection Floors Recommendation, No. 202, adopted by 185 states in 2012.

For the World Bank Group and the ILO, universal social protection refers to the integrated set of policies designed to ensure income security and support to all people across the life cycle – paying particular attention to the poor and the vulnerable.  Anyone who needs social protection should be able to access it.

Since the 2000s, universality has re-entered the development agenda. First it was education: universal primary education became a Millennium Development Goal in 2000. In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution endorsing universal health coverage. Now it is time for universal social protection.

A joint programme of action to increase the number of countries adopting Universal Social Protection: the World Bank Group and the ILO shared objective is to increase the number of countries that provide universal social protection, supporting countries to design and implement universal and sustainable social protection systems. There are many paths towards universal social protection. It belongs to each country to choose its own, and to opt for the means and methods that best suit its circumstances.

Many countries have embarked on expanding social protection coverage and are reporting significant progress. Yet, the vast majority of the world’s population is still far from enjoying adequate protection. It is time to take determined and innovative steps to trigger change on a larger scale.

Read the concept note: The World Bank Group and ILO Universal Social Protection Initiative here.

Civil Society Call for a Global Fund for Social Protection

Over 200 civil society organizations and trade unions unite to call for a Global Fund for Social Protection to protect the most vulnerable during COVID-19 and beyond.

Read the Call

SP&PFM Programme

The programme Improving Synergies Between Social Protection and Public Finance Management provides medium-term support to multiple countries aiming to strengthen their social protection systems at a national level and ensure sustainable financing. The programme aims to support countries in their efforts towards achieving universal social protection coverage.

This initiative is implemented jointly by the ILO, Unicef, and the GCSPF.

Read more

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