Social Protection for Development: a Review of Definitions

Background paper to the ERD 2010


Paolo Brunori, Università di Bari, Italy
Marie O’Reilly, Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, New York, USA


Paper prepared in the framework of the European Report on Development 2010


There is a growing recognition that poverty and deprivation in developing countries cannot be defeated solely by the promotion of economic growth. Specific interventions, targeting the most vulnerable sectors of the population, are increasingly considered as necessary complements to more traditional pro-growth policies, especially in the face of unstable global socioeconomic scenarios. Social protection is often considered a double-dividend policy for development: it is an effective input for economic growth and it directly reduces poverty by targeting vulnerable households. However, the definition of social protection can be vague and the array of varying definitions can lead to confusion. Social protection has been framed as a policy response to risk, as a human right, and as an agenda for livelihood building. Nonetheless, social protection is generally
described as the set of public and private mechanisms that protect and prevent individuals and households from suffering the worst consequences of shocks and stresses. Its novelty lies in its additional attempt to promote resilient livelihoods. However, almost any public intervention could be considered more or less directly part of the social protection system. In this perspective, education policy, pension systems, health care, and many other development policies will fall under a very vague definition of social protection. Such a definition would capture the complex system of linkages between social protection and all other social welfare components, but would hamper our understanding of the specificity of social protection in fighting poverty and promoting economic growth. In what follows we review and discuss the most influential definitions of
social protection in the framework of development and aid policies and we explain how the operational definition of social protection has been conceived in the European Report on Development.

Download the paper

Back to Background Papers