Social Protection

Challenges and Opportunities

Policymakers in the region have acknowledged that social protection, i.e. government transfers of cash benefits and basic services such as health care and education can play a key role in eradicating poverty and tackling inequality traps.

Social protection is anchored in the universal rights 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 provides a solid foundation for the realization of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Despite the region’s remarkable economic progress, critical social protection coverage gaps exist throughout the region. Only 30 per cent of persons above the retirement age receive an old-age pension. Only 10 per cent of the unemployed receive any benefits. And only 30 per cent of all persons with disabilities have enough income for self-support. Over 1 billion people are also classified as vulnerable workers, lacking basic social protection. Furthermore, 80 per cent of the population has no access to health-care assistance. To respond to these shortcomings, ESCAP has been serving as a knowledge sharing platform on policies that promote social protection floors in Asia Pacific and the world.

Our Response

In April 2009 the United Nations Chief Executive Board launched the Social Protection Floor (SPF) Initiative in response to the global financial and economic crisis. The SPF concept corresponds to a set of essential social services and transfers that everyone should enjoy to ensure the realization of the rights embodied in human right treaties. The SPF provides a framework to plan progressive implementation of social protection systems, taking specific national contexts and conditions into account. As such, the SPF provides the guiding framework for ESCAP’s work in the area of social protection.

At the 67th Commission session in May 2011, members and associate members of ESCAP underscored the urgency of moving toward universal social protection coverage by adopting Resolution 67/8 on “Strengthening social protection systems in Asia and the Pacific.” This Resolution calls upon member States to “invest in building social protection systems that might form the basis of a ‘social protection floor’, which would offer a minimum level of access to essential services and income security for all, and subsequently enhancing the capacity for extension, according to national aspirations and circumstances.”

Furthermore, with the call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to reach those furthest behind, addressing inequality and strengthening social protection systems are fundamental measures for achieving a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable future for all. Aside from being overarching priorities, reducing inequality features as a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal, whilst social protection is referred to directly in Goals 1 (poverty), 3 (health), 5 (gender equality), and 10 (inequality).

Our Work

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.

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 through dynamic and interactive functions. The aim of the Toolbox is to support member States and other stakeholders to better realize the potential social protection plays for people, prosperity and the planet; in short for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Toolbox explains the basic principles of social protection and the impact it can have on poverty reduction, social cohesion, economic growth and the environment in a way that is simple and easy to understand.

In a user-friendly way, the Social Protection Toolbox identifies national coverage gaps and provides users with over 100 good practices for inspiration and South-South learning. The Toolbox also features capacity- and knowledge building modules, videos, a quiz, as well as more in-depth studies.

The Toolbox also features two new e-learning guides, developed together with Development Pathways, that show how investments in inclusive social protection can accelerate progress towards the SDGs, why universal schemes are better at reaching the poor than targeted schemes, and what policy options to consider when designing inclusive schemes.

Policy guides on inclusive social protection

These guides are part of a series of four policy guides developed to support policymakers and practitioners in Asia and the Pacific in their efforts to strengthen social protection.

Why We Need Social Protection explains the basic principles of social protection and the impact it can have on poverty reduction, social cohesion, economic growth and the environment. How to Design Inclusive Social Protection Systems explains how to design inclusive and robust social protection systems and focuses on tax-financed income security. It discusses key policy choices such as going universal or targeting and how conditions attached to social protection transfers can have negative impacts at the household level.

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

In an effort to expand the evidence base in the area of redistributive policies, ESCAP has produced a publication which 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 publication, entitled, “Time for Equality: The Role of Social Protection in Reducing Inequalities in Asia and the Pacific" can be accessed here. In addition, research on social protection schemes was conducted in China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam.

Interregional project on “Promoting Equality: Strengthening the capacity of selected developing countries to design and implement equality-oriented public policies and programmes”

This interregional project (2015-18) aims to strengthen countries’ capacities in the analysis and measurement of inequality, as well as in the conceptualization, design and implementation of multidisciplinary public policies oriented towards greater socio-economic equality, including through employment, social protection and access to social services. The activities will focus on a combination of knowledge building, knowledge sharing and knowledge management, as well as through advisory services and training.

Under this project, ESCAP is currently working on a comprehensive analysis of inequality of opportunities in Asia and the Pacific, with a view to explore key dimensions and drivers as well as identify critical policy measures for the way forward.