Social protection, social justice and social contracts

Social protection, in the form of social assistance and social insurance programs, has long been considered a response to problems of inequality and poverty and as of late, as an important factor in state building. Governments across the world are working with or considering the use of safety nets, discussing how to target state assistance, and debating the extent of poor people’s responsibilities for improving their own livelihood condition. Is a little financial ‘nudging’ necessary and sufficient? Should benefits be allocated on the basis of need or citizenship or be universal to all within a country? Can refugees or migrants be provided with the same benefits and services without full citizenship?

To date the impact of measures involving social and cash transfers has been relatively well documented and an increasing number of analyses as to which are the most effective modalities now exist. For example should social or cash transfers be targeted or universal, conditional or unconditional, through local government or central ministry.

Few studies, however, have focused on the broader political issues involved. These include the implications of social protection interventions and their different design features for citizen-society-state relations and the potential for social protection to exacerbate social and political divisions as well as to ameliorate them. Is there a social contract between European host countries and refugees? Who defines such a social contract? In a low-income country such as Nepal, can social protection interventions risk jeopardising the post-conflict attempt to rebuild the citizen-state relationship?  What is a socially responsible and politically feasible way to graduate recipients of benefits out of programmes? Given how important accountability is for strengthening citizen-state relations, how can it be secured in social protection programmes?

The seminar organised by DIIS and hosted by The University of Copenhagen will address these and related questions.