Working Paper

IDS working papers;232

Transformative Social Protection

Published on 1 January 2004

Social protection describes all public and private initiatives that provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks, and enhance the social status and rights of the marginalised; with the overall objective of reducing the economic and social vulnerability of poor, vulnerable and marginalised groups.

This paper argues against the popular perception of social protection as ‘social welfare programmes for poor countries’, consisting of costly targeted transfers to economically inactive or vulnerable groups. It also challenges the limited ambition of social protection policy in practice, which has moved little from its origins in the ‘social safety nets’ discourse of the 1980s, and aims to provide ‘economic protection’ against livelihood shocks, rather than ‘social protection’ as broadly defined here. Instead, we argue that social protection can be affordable; it should extend to all of the population; it can contribute to the Millennium Development Goal of poverty reduction; and it can empower marginalised people and be socially ‘transformative’.


Rachel Sabates-Wheeler

Rural Futures Cluster Lead

Stephen Devereux

Research Fellow

Publication details

published by
Devereux, S. and Sabates-Wheeler, R.
IDS Working Paper, issue 232
1 85864 844 0


About this publication

Programmes and centres
Centre for Social Protection

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