Journal Article


Debating Social Protection

Published on 1 May 2007

The rapid rise of social protection up the development policy agenda has been startling: it can achieve bigger development objectives, such as economic growth and the MDGs. Its predecessor ‘social safety nets’ was disparaged and attacked during the 1990s, and was then reborn as ‘social protection’ at the turn of the millennium.

The new agenda comes with a fresh array of conceptual frameworks, analytical tools, empirical evidence, national policy processes, heavyweight agencies and big names in development studies behind it. It is amenable to the ‘right’ and ‘left’, and prioritises moving people productive livelihoods. Advocates for social protection fall into two broad camps – the ‘instrumentalists’ and the ‘activists’.

For instrumentalists social protection is about putting in place risk management mechanisms that will compensate for incomplete insurance (and other) markets, until poverty reduction and market deepening allow private insurance to play a more prominent role. Activists view the persistence of extreme poverty, inequality and vulnerability as symptoms of social injustice and structural inequity, and campaign for social protection as an inviolable right of citizenship.

These issues are debated in this IDS Bulletin. Commentators were encouraged to be provocative and pithy – and the protagonists are given a ‘right to reply’ to their critics. Some stirring encounters result. This overview highlights how rapidly thinking and practice have moved forward in a few short years, but it has also revealed that a range of conceptual, empirical and policy issues remain unresolved.

Table of contents

  • Introduction: Debating Social Protection (pdf) – Stephen Devereux and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
  • The Role of Social Risk Management in Development: A World Bank View – Robert Holzmann and Valerie Kozel
  • Comment on the Role of Social Risk Management in Development: A World Bank View – Lawrence Haddad
  • Broadening Social Risk Management: Risks, Rights and the Chronic Poor – Bruce Guenther, Karishma Huda and Ian Macauslan
  • The Role of Social Risk Management in Development: A World Bank View – Reply to Comments – Robert Holzmann and Valerie Kozel
  • Social Protection for Transformation – Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux
  • Whose (Transformative) Reality Counts? A Critical Review of the Transformative Social Protection Framework – Ken Aoo, Saul Butters, Nicolina Lamhauge, Rebecca Napier-Moore and Yuko Ono
  • Whose (Transformative) Reality Counts? A Reply to Aoo et al. – Stephen Devereux and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
  • Asset Thresholds and Social Protection: A ‘Think-Piece’ – Michael R. Carter and Christopher B. Barrett
  • Comment on Poverty Traps and Social Protection Policy – Stefan Dercon
  • Asset Thresholds and Social Protection: A Reply to Dercon – Michael R. Carter and Christopher B. Barrett
  • Social Protection for Poverty Reduction: The OECD/DAC/POVNET View – Timo Voipio
  • A ‘Vision” Thing? Debate and Difference within the OECD-DAC Poverty Network Approaches to Social Protection’ – Naila Kabeer
  • Social Protection for Poverty Reduction: A Reply to Kabeer – Timo Voipio
  • A Universal Social Minimum as a Foundation for Citizenship – Koy Thomson
  • A Universal Social Minimum: A Recipe for Social Justice or ‘Apple Pie in the Sky’? – Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux
  • A Universal Social Minimum – Half-baked ‘Apple Pie in the Sky’?: A Reply to Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux – Koy Thomson
  • Understanding Conditions in Income-transfer Programmes: A Brief(est) Note – Armando Barrientos
  • Superfluous, Pernicious, Atrocious and Abominable? The Case Against Conditional Cash Transfers – Nicholas Freeland
  • Two Cheers for CCTs – Maxine Molyneux
  • Cash-based Responses in Emergencies – Paul Harvey
  • Food Transfers and Food Insecurity – Ugo Gentilini
  • Cash and/or Food? A Comment on Gentilini – Paul Harvey
  • Cash-based Response in Emergencies: A Reply to Harvey – Ugo Gentilini
  • Social Protection: To Target or Not to Target – John Hoddinott
  • Social Protection and Growth: The Case of Agriculture – Rebecca Holmes, John Farrington and Rachel Slater
  • Rethinking ‘Vulnerability’ and Social Protection for Children Affected by AIDS – Jerker Edström


Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow

Rachel Sabates-Wheeler

Rural Futures Cluster Lead

Publication details

published by
Devereux, S. and Sabates-Wheeler, R.
Stephen Devereux and Rachel Sabates-Wheeler
IDS Bulletin, volume 38, issue 3


About this publication

Programmes and centres
Centre for Social Protection

Related content