The Right to Social Security


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The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

What is the Right to Social Security?

Everyone has the right to social security. Through the provision of social welfare or assistance, States must guarantee protection to everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of society, in the event of unemployment, maternity, accident, illness, disability, old age or other such life circumstances. States must progressively realise the right to social security through measures to offer protection, through cash or in kind, which enables individuals and families to acquire at least essential health care, basic shelter and housing, water and sanitation, food, and the most basic forms of education.

Due to its redistributive effect, the right to social security is an important factor in social inclusion and cohesion, and poverty reduction. Social security must be provided on a non-discriminatory basis, though the means of financing and providing society security will vary from State to State.

In its General Comment 19, the UNCommittee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) provided detailed guidance to States regarding their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the right to social security. The Committee also noted that the right includes the following interrelated and essential features:

  • Availability. States must ensure that a social security system, however composed, is available to provide benefits to address relevant impacts on livelihood. Such system must be administered or regulated by the State, and should be sustainable to provide continuity over generations.
  • Social risks and contingencies. States’ social security systems should provide for the coverage of the following nine principal branches: health care; sickness; old age; unemployment; employment injury; family and child support; maternity; disability; and survivors and orphans. 
  • Adequacy. Benefits provided under a social security arrangement must be adequate in both amount and duration to ensure that recipients may realise their rights to family protection and assistance, an adequate standard of living, and adequate access to health care. To facilitate this, States should regularly monitor the criteria used to determine adequacy. When a person makes contributions to a social security scheme that provides benefits to cover lack of income, there should be a reasonable relationship between earnings, paid contributions, and the amount of relevant benefit.
  • Accessibility. Access to social security involves five key elements: coverage, eligibility, affordability, participation and information, and physical access. Everyone should be covered by the State’s social security system, particularly the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups, without discrimination on any prohibited ground. Non-contributory schemes will be necessary to ensure universal coverage. Qualifying conditions must be reasonable, proportionate and transparent. Any termination, suspension or reduction of benefits should be prescribed by law, based on reasonable grounds, and subject to due process. Any contributions required under a social security scheme must be stated in advance, affordable for all, and should not compromise other human rights. Everyone must have access to information on social security entitlements, and be able to participate in available social security systems. States should make sure that everyone can physically access social security services to access benefits and information and make any required contributions, with particular attention given to persons with disabilities, migrants, and persons living in remote, disaster-prone, or conflict areas.

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