Social Protection for Transformation

The social protection response to the safety nets agenda, which was justifiably criticised as narrow in its vision and residualist in its implementation, bifurcates according to the vision of how long-term and sustainable poverty reduction will be achieved. One vision sees risk management as explicitly linked with economic growth, the argument being that reducing risk or protecting the poor against income and consumption variability will allow them to invest and accumulate – a ‘trampoline’ out of poverty (World Bank 2000). The other vision, the one that we promote and develop here, argues that fundamental to long-term poverty reduction is a positive relationship between livelihood security and enhanced autonomy or empowerment. While understandings of ‘poverty’ have moved to incorporate social dimensions of wellbeing together with rights-based approaches, social protection continues to be conceptualised by many development agencies mainly in terms of public responses to livelihood shocks – the conventional economic ‘safety net’ function. But this is ‘economic protection’, not ‘social protection’, and it is hardly socially transformative. Largely missing from risk management frameworks, for instance, is any concern for equity and social rights. We argue that an appreciation of this second linkage can help to create the policy conditions for a virtuous cycle of pro-poor growth, governance systems that are accountable and responsive to poorer as well as wealthier citizens, and an approach to development that is grounded in concerns for social justice.The ‘transformative social protection’ approach emerges from a broader conceptualisation of vulnerability than economic risk alone; one that is based instead on an appreciation of structural inequalities. Attempting to address structural vulnerabilities (together with other forms) requires taking a political approach to social protection, focusing on rights, duties, democracy and advocacy. This article describes what we mean by the ‘transformative’ potential of social protection and concludes by asserting the case for social protection as supporting social as well as economic goals of development.