Policy development and applied research

Policy development and applied research are closely intertwined in the work of the Social Protection Department.

The ILO’s policy development work is grounded in the two-dimensional approach to the extension of social security coverage, which aims at the rapid implementation of national social protection floors that ensure universal access to at least basic social security guarantees (horizontal dimension), and the progressive achievement of higher levels of protection (vertical dimension) within comprehensive social security systems, as adopted by the 100th Session of the International Labour Conference in 2011.

This approach has emerged from earlier research and policy development work, as well as a number of international and regional tripartite consultations. These demonstrated that social security benefits are a powerful tool to promote balanced social and economic development and inclusive growth, combat poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Key messages that emerged are:
  • Building up national social security systems early in the economic development process is a key investment in people, a key contribution to promoting social and economic development, as well as realizing the human right to social security and other human rights.
  • Finding the “fiscal space” for early investments in social security is possible, even if modest, and can be enlarged as economies continue to develop.
  • Cash benefits play an important role in ensuring income security, reducing poverty and can contribute to fostering productive employment and inclusive economic growth.
  • Social health protection plays an essential role in ensuring effective access to health care and achieving equitable health outcomes.
  • Well-organized social security systems contribute to building trust in institutions and societies, and are a critical component in state-building.
  • Countries find different ways to achieve social security outcomes, often through a combination of different means (universal benefits, social insurance, social assistance, employment guarantees, etc.).
  • ILO social security standards provide a unique set of internationally accepted minimum standards for social security systems. The Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention, 1952 (No. 102) continues to serve as a benchmark and reference for the gradual development of social security coverage at the national level. The Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (N°202) sets out that member States should establish and maintain national social protection floors.
  • Social security systems play an important role as automatic stabilizers in the event of major shocks, as well as in supporting structural changes of economies and societies.
The research strategy of the Department focuses on assessing relationships between short and longer term returns on investments in social protection systems (including various income transfers and provision of health care) and costs of such investments to address debates on affordability of social protection and its opportunity costs.

The main directions of on-going and planned research include:
  • Research and policy analysis of trends, approaches and reforms undertaken within different branches of social security (including social health protection, maternity protection, old-age pensions, disability pensions, income support to unemployed, employment injury insurance).
  • Studies into shorter and longer-term impacts of social security/protection including: impact on poverty, inequality, labour market behaviour and economic activity (including child labour), health, education, productivity and growth.
  • Assessment of future costs concerning the potential introduction of new social security/protection programmes and comprehensive social protection systems (starting from basic social protection packages) in low and middle income countries.