Network for Transformative Social Protection

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Tina Ebro:

"In 2008, when the global financial crisis was unfolding, representatives of poor people’s movements and civil society leaders from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and India were attending the seventh Asia–Europe People’s Forum in Beijing. Making use of this opportunity, they met, discussed and strategised to look again at the specific conditions of poverty and exclusion in the Asian region, and then they met again in Manila to form the Network for Transformative Social Protection. These activists saw a unique opportunity offered by the crisis for democratic forces to act, unite and create the conditions for a common response to the multiple crises that were becoming manifest. The core aim was to advance people’s socio-economic rights and to end the processes of impoverishment. The Network resolved to use transformative social protection as a vehicle and to pursue this aim nationally, regionally and globally, with the poor and powerless at the forefront of this struggle.


Tina Ebro:

"Transformative social protection is comprehensive. At its core, it demands a unified nationwide system of social protection that is all-encompassing and which includes labour rights, social security, and access to essential services in order to prevent and reduce poverty.

Among other things, transformative social protection covers a number of inalienable and interrelated rights vital to a life of dignity and security:

  • Right to decent work and sustainable livelihood: living wages, guaranteed work, end to contractualisation, access to land and natural resources, subsidies to small farmers (The best form of social protection is the guarantee of decent work and livelihoods. With half of the world’s population still engaged in agriculture, land should be a common resource, accessible to all tillers);
  • Right to healthy and affordable food (produced from ecological and sustainable agriculture of small farmers);
  • Right to essential services: universal and quality health care, education, humane and low-cost housing, living requirements for water and energy;
  • Right to social security: living pensions for the elderly and disabled; child allowance; and income guarantee during unemployment, ill health, and natural disasters.

All these demands cannot be delivered immediately. Rather states and other public authorities must develop clear policy guidelines, budgets, a timetable and the necessary legal frameworks (i.e. a ‘road map’) to introduce, consolidate and realise these rights.


  • Transformative social protection is rights-based. Social protection - which encompasses the rights to decent work, essential services, social security and social assistance – are fundamental human rights, regardless of time, place and circumstance. These rights are already enshrined in international human rights covenants and laws, to which nearly all states are signatories. The challenge is therefore to realise their systematic implementation.
  • Activists in the Network for Transformative Social Protections deem these rights as part of the social commons. Commons are essential things that support life -- in the sphere of nature and natural resources, the social and the societal, the economy, culture and knowledge, including the digital domain. The commons paradigm is central to an alternative system that activists are pushing for - a system that provides for the needs of individual and society, and taking into account the regenerative capacities of the environment. As a counterweight to the neoliberal storyline, the commons and public goods should not be marketed as commodities. Crucial to a life of well-being and dignity, all the commons must be safeguarded and reclaimed.
  • Transformative social protection is universal – social protection should be provided by governments unconditionally to all people: citizens, migrant workers and refugees alike. The contrast here, of course, is with targeted social policies. In countries where a large number of people are poor, studies and practice have shown that targeting is prone to errors of undercoverage and entails high administrative costs while stigmatising the beneficiaries. In short, targeting is inefficient and often omits the most vulnerable sectors of society.
  • Transformative social protection is legislated – there should be a constitutional framework to underpin the social protection system. As Martin Luther King Jr said, ‘Legislation won’t change the heart, but it will restrain the heartless’. Therefore we need legislation at local, national, regional and international levels, to ensure that all acknowledge social protection and access to essential services as human rights and not as commodities. This distinction is fundamental.
  • Transformative social protection is underwritten by the state – as the only actor with the democratic legitimacy and authority to create policy, legislate, implement and monitor on a national and universal basis states remain the primary vehicles to take responsibility for actively providing universal social protection for people.

This means states have the leading role in the delivery of basic services and infrastructure, administering and regulating social protection programmes and agencies, including institutionalizing mechanisms for public control. In addition, states have the duty to develop adequate fiscal and budgetary policies to generate sufficient domestic funds for universal social protection.

  • Transformative social protection is affordable and feasible – According to the UN, only 20 per cent of the global population has access to social protection and the overwhelming majority resides in rich countries. In most developing countries, only a tiny minority – typically the military, civil servants and workers in the small formal sector – has social protection and access to social insurance or social security, funded by contributions of workers and employers. However, universal state-funded, national-level social protection for all people in developing countries is both affordable and feasible. Costing studies by the ILO show that the ‘social protection floor initiative’ of the UN costs only 2 per cent of global GDP. Studies in Africa and Asia show that in these countries 4–8 per cent of a nation’s GDP could fund a programme that includes universal health care, subsidies for all children, income support for all poor and unemployed people, pensions for elderly people and benefits for disabled people."


From the essay: Advancing Transformative Social Protection Amidst Deepening Inequalities in Asia. By Tina Ebro.