Universal Access to Social Protection

On this page will be updated EU-SPS insights on how universal access to social protection can benefit society as a whole and the diverse needs of individuals.

Social protection for gender equality

Universal and comprehensive social protection systems help promote gender equality. This is because piecemeal social assistance policies may not cater to the diversity of risks faced at the different stages of women's and girls' lives. A recognition of women's and girls' varied lifecycle risks should replace the more blunt  approach of treating women as a 'vulnerable group'.

Individual policies may also be ineffective due to compounding barriers of access. Take the example of contributory pensions. Pensions may not reach women as intended, if: i) women have weak sexual and reproductive rights, leading to unwanted pregnancies and ii) time spend outside of gainful employment, particularly when iii) women do not have the right to a family leave and thus cannot return to their old employment after time spent in care work. Such a line of underlying causes and consequences reveals how simply presenting women with a social assistance policy, like a pension, may not be sufficient.

Guidance note: "Social protection for gender equality"

Sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR)

The EU-SPS recommends advancing SRHR through universal health coverage. Universal health coverage packages should include among others:

  • antenatal, safe delivery and postnatal care
  • safe abortion and postabortion care
  • contraception
  • prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections incl. HIV, infertility, reproductive tract infections and reproductive cancers
  • services to address gender-based violence

A comprehensive social policy approach is needed to to ensure policies for SRHR are effective. A health clinic, for instance, will only serve the needs of women if transport to the clinic is safe and affordable. The staffing of clinics and other services are also reliant on a well-trained workforce.

As with social protection policies in general, policies to address SRHR also need to consider the diverse needs across the life cycle. Young people has a specific need to acces accurate and comprehensive sexuality education and high-quality confidential services.

Guidance note: "Social protection for Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights"

Social protection for climate action

The direct climate change impacts and adaptation needs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are dramatic. Meanwhile, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees as targeted by the Paris Agreement means achieving a carbon-neutral world economy by 2050. The timeframe is short and the scale of change unprecedented. The transition implies large economic changes such as shifts in employment structures, production and energy-use. The impacts are surely global but shrouded in uncertainty. Social protection systems are an essential element of building resilience for successful adaptation. They also create the preconditions for a just transition period toward a post-fossil era.

The EU-SPS briefing note on climate action highlights specific approaches to social protection that address the social needs raised by climate change. Many of these approaches have been promoted in EU-SPS actions. They include the comprehensive social policies apporach, unviersal access to social protection, and gender-responsiveness - among others.

Guidance note: "Social protection for climate change adaptation and a carbon neutral transition by 2050"


In its work on expanding Cambodian pension coverage, the EU-SPS recommended a three-tiered system. At its base, there would be a non-contributory basic pensions financed by the government. The second and third tiers would be a mandatory and optional contributory scheme for those in formal employment.

Naturally, a universal social pension is a public cost. Nonetheless, the EU-SPS argues that it is an investment worth making in Cambodia. Resons for this include:

  • Informal workers are not likely to sign up for optional contributory plans.
  • Subsidizing voluntary contributory plans to incentivize membership creates a public cost while not directly addressing the multiple barriers to membership.
  • A minimum social pension is easier to administer than targeted assistance. It can also help reduce erroneous exclusions.
  • A minimum social pension creates certainty in the beneficiary's future and security against various risks. A minimum social pension can be a guarantee against illness or injury. The certainty of a pension income also extends to the families that would otherwise need to take care of the financial needs of the elderly.
  • The public funds spent on a social pension do not vanish, but continue ciruclating in the economy. Social pensions are not only expenses, but means of stimulating economic activity where it is needed.

Guidance note: "Designing a private sector pension system in Cambodia"