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Social protection systems help individuals and families, especially the poor and vulnerable, cope with crises and shocks, find jobs, improve productivity, invest in the health and education of their children, and protect the aging population. Social protection programs are at the heart of boosting human capital for the world’s most vulnerable. They empower people to be healthy, pursue their education, and seek opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Social protection systems that are well-designed and implemented are powerful as they enhance human capital and productivity, reduce inequalities, build resilience and end the inter-generational cycle of poverty. Such systems and tools are transformative as they help the poor and most vulnerable mitigate economic and fiscal shocks and provide opportunity by giving them a chance to climb out of poverty and become productive members of society. When poor and vulnerable people have the opportunity to improve their lives and that of their families, they are less likely to move in search of a better life. Well-designed social protection programs are cost-effective, costing countries on average about 1.5% of GDP.


Social protection has been key to this effort and many countries have embraced social protection instruments such as safety net programs as a means of harnessing human capital. Apart from providing struggling families with supplemental income, social safety nets also increase access to information and services, improve productivity, protect the elderly, and support people while they look for work.

The rapidly changing nature of work in countries at all income levels requires a dramatically new approach to social protection and labor policy, according to the report “Protecting All: Risk-Sharing for a Diverse and Diversifying World of Work”. It proposes an approach to worker protection and social security that is better adapted to an increasingly diverse and fluid world of work.


Social protection helps people become productive and realize their human capital. The jobs agenda is at the forefront of the Human Capital Project. Every month, two million new young people join the work force—a challenge compounded by the fact that 200 million people are unemployed and looking for work. Of those working, 65% are stuck in low-productivity jobs. The disruptive impact of the COVID-19 crisis on workers, labor markets, and livelihoods has further underlined the importance of the jobs agenda.  

Preparing for the jobs of tomorrow, while making critical human capital investments today is a priority for achieving economic transformation in the poorest countries. As part of the HCP, the World Bank is supporting governments to equip the next generation of workers with the skills needed to tackle the types of jobs which the changing world of work will require. This also requires enabling workers to move from lower- to higher-productivity activities—led by a vibrant private sector and supported by public policy actions.


The World Bank Group supports universal access to social protection, and it is central to its goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

Universal social protection coverage includes: providing social assistance through cash transfers to those who need them, especially children; benefits and support for people of working age in case of maternity, disability, work injury or for those without jobs; and pension coverage for the elderly. Assistance is provided through social insurance, tax-funded social benefits, social assistance services, public works programs and other schemes guaranteeing basic income security.

Social protection systems, figure prominently in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 1.3 calls for the implementation of “nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable”.

Since April 2020, the World Bank’s social protection operations have reached $12.5 billion, benefiting nearly one billion individuals globally. These resources support safety net programs, including cash transfers, public works, and school feeding programs.

Together with universal social protection programs, targeted interventions play a valuable role in helping achieve universal protection. A new report “Revisiting Targeting in Social Assistance: A New Look at Old Dilemmas” provides a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and costs of social protection targeting as well as the pros and cons of various targeting methods based on global experience in over 130 countries.

Today, our social protection systems deliver social assistance and insurance to the poor and vulnerable, and link them to jobs, improve productivity, invest in the health and education of their children, and protect the aging population. While achievements in designing and promoting the adoption of social assistance programs and delivery systems have been made, investing heavily in initiatives to improve jobs and earnings opportunities, and the expansion of social insurance programs are equally important.

COVID-19 Response

Effective social protection systems are crucial to safeguarding the poor and vulnerable when crisis hits. In response to COVID-19, the World Bank Group is working fast to provide social protection interventions to protect the poor and vulnerable in developing countries from the adverse impacts of the pandemic.

During the pandemic the WBG has been leveraging existing social protection systems in countries to help families and businesses restore income, preserve livelihoods, and compensate for increasing prices and unexpected medical expenses. The World Bank is also continuing to help countries enhance the preparedness of their social protection systems and build resilience against future crises.

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Last Updated: Mar 28, 2022

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