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Universality, or the achievement of universal social protection, has been endorsed by the international community and in the region as a key objective of social protection. Solidarity and trust in public systems, including through universal social protection, will underpin the advancement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, understanding often remains unclear around what universality entails in terms of systems, schemes, combinations of non-contributory and contributory benefits, and eligibility.

This paper aims to build understanding of the underlying concepts around universality through first providing a brief trajectory of universality in section 2, before exploring why universal coverage must be achieved in section 3. In section 4 the paper looks at the key lifecycle and labour market contingencies that should be covered while section 5 provides a simplified definition of universality. Section 6 then explores ways forward to achieve universality through a single scheme or multiple schemes. Section 7 provides options to move toward progressively achieving universal coverage within contexts of limited fiscal space. Finally, section 8 discusses the important linkages between universality and the social contract.