Social determinants of health

Social protection: shared interests in vulnerability reduction and development

Sectoral briefing series 4

World Health Organization

Publication details

Number of pages: 32
Publication date: 2011
Languages: English
ISBN: 978 92 4 150365 5



The Social Determinants of Health Sectoral Briefing Series was launched as a follow-up initiative to the Health in All Policies International Meeting in Adelaide in 2010. Research shows that health equity is driven by policies in other sectors as well as complex social, economic and political factors. By providing information on other sectors’ agendas and policy approaches and by illustrating areas for potential collaboration, the Series encourages a more systematic dialogue with other sectors. Rather than concentrating only on public health interventions (e.g. treatment, prevention, protection), the Series suggests areas of mutual interest to motivate joint work.

Social protection: an overview

Despite an unprecedented global increase in wealth in the last few decades, poverty and vulnerability continue to affect millions of people and their incomes, health and well-being (ILO, 2010a). Unexpected negative life events, known as “shocks”, cause unemployment, illness, malnutrition and injury, all of which reduce people’s ability to work, diminish household consumption capacity, and very often trap people in chronic poverty. Global poverty estimates suggest that almost 1.4 billion people are living below the poverty line of US$ 1.25 per day (World Bank, 2011). Of these, around 500 million live in chronic poverty (CPRC, 2009). Households impacted by poverty, and specially those in chronic poverty, lack economic and productive assets, very often have no voice in public decision-making, and are unable to provide for their members. Chronic poverty creates vicious circles of deprivation that reduce capability and human development (CPRC, 2009).

Social protection services and income transfers are put in place by governments to reduce households’ vulnerability to poverty, to manage risks and counteract the negative impacts that unexpected life events may have on their income, wealth or health, and to lift them out of chronic poverty. Vulnerability, unexpected life events, and impoverishment not only have an impact on low- and middle-income countries but also on high-income countries, where unemployment resulting from economic crises and cuts in public spending, can increase economic insecurity for millions of people in middle-income brackets. In economic downturns, being born into poverty means few prospects for social mobility later in adult life (SEKN, 2008).

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