Inclusive societies and development

Research - The EU Social Protection Systems Programme







The EU-SPS supports low- and middle-income countries in building sustainable and inclusive social protection systems. The research activities include both country- specific analytical work for our 10 partner countries, and thematic research which is intended to support systematization efforts in low and middle income countries more broadly.


Country work

Research at country level is demand-driven and as such varies significantly between countries. In Cambodia, Indonesia and the Kyrgyz Republic the Development Centre is working on Social Protection System Reviews. The SPSR is a new OECD tool which was developed in close consultation with government counterparts and social protection experts. It aims to inform developing countries’ efforts to extend and reform their social protection systems. It takes a holistic view of a country’s social protection system, examining its three pillars – social assistance, social insurance and labour market programmes – within the country’s broader policy context. As such, the Reviews examine questions of policy coherence within the social protection sector, as well as with other relevant policy areas.

Thematic research

In addition to country-specific work, the EU-SPS aims to generate cross-country knowledge on social protection with wide applicability across developing countries. This work aims to inform future social protection programming by partner governments, the EU Commission, EU member states and the broader development community. Four broad themes have been identified for the cross-country research:

  • social protection systems’ contribution to inclusive growth,
  • issues related to the financing of social protection,
  • expanding social protection systems in economies with high informality,
  • social protection and universal health coverage.

These themes emerged from on consultations held during the Programme’s Inception Phase with key national policy-makers and local stakeholders in partner countries, as well as consultations with think tanks, academics and other experts. 

Social protection and inclusive growth

The question about the “investment case” for social protection is one that comes up regularly in discussions with partner countries -- does social protection contribute to long-term economic growth? Does it affect the nature of the growth process? The objective of the research stream is to make a contribution to this discussion by filling knowledge gaps around the linkages between investment and social protection on the one hand, and the level and nature of economic growth on the other.

Specifically, the OECD Development Centre is collaborating with UNDP’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) on a joint report to be published in early 2018. The report attempts to identify and quantify the role of social protection benefits (such as pensions, employment and social assistance benefits) on inclusive growth.

Financing social protection

The work on financing social protection focuses on three areas: the long-term financing of social protection, the reform of civil service pension schemes in developing countries and the financing of public works programmes. These topics were chosen because of their relevance for partners countries, because they represent gaps in the existing literature around social protection and because of their wide applicability to other developing countries.

The report on the long-term financing of social protection focuses on six countries in East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. It examines long-term demographic, economic and environmental trends over the next 50 years – the timeframe envisaged by the African Union’s Agenda 2063 in order to show how key socio-economic variables such as the size and age structure of the population, the level of urbanisation, income poverty and the structure of the economy and the labour market are likely to evolve. It also identifies the likely impact of climate change in the six countries. While it is not possible to predict precisely how the six countries will develop over the coming decades, the report demonstrates clearly these trends will interact and reinforce each other.

Based on these projections, the report anticipates how demand for social protection is likely to change over the next 50 years and identifies which policy directions will be best suited to addressing the complex and far-reaching challenges confronting the six countries. In turn, these policy responses all have significant financial implications which need to inform long-term social protection strategies being developed by the sample countries.

The work on the financing of public works schemes is being carried out in collaboration with the International Labour Organization. The underlying rationale for the study is that the financing arrangements (and related institutional infrastructure) of public works programmes are often misaligned with the objectives of these programmes, which in turn undermines programme performance. The paper on civil service pension arrangements reflects the fact that such schemes are often the largest and best-developed social insurance schemes in emerging economies.


Building on the 2009 OECD Report Is informal normal? the point of departure for this work is the fact that across the developing world, economies are not formalizing as they grow. This makes the extension of social protection coverage challenging to say the least.

This work intends to provide a granular picture of informal sector workers in a sample of 25-30 emerging economies in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, as a starting point for reflection on informality-robust social protection programmes and policies. This work is being done in collaboration with the International Labour Organization’s Research Department.


Social protection and Universal Health Coverage (UHC)


The World Health Organization’s definition of UHC is that “all people can use the promotive, preventive, curative, rehabilitative and palliative health services they need, of sufficient quality to be effective, while also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship”’. UHC therefore involves key themes of equity, quality and effectiveness of services, and financial protection. The WHO emphasises that achieving UHC is an ongoing process – a ‘’journey’’ – for all countries that involves continuing adaptation to changing health needs, health technologies, and capacities. UHC is also a key development issue: latest estimates suggest 400 million people – especially women and children and vulnerable groups - lack access to essential health services, and 6 percent of people in developing countries are tipped into, or pushed further into extreme poverty because of health spending.

The pursuit of UHC – and social protection system-building more broadly – requires managing complex trade-offs. Through a series of country case studies, this work will examine the extent to which UHC policies are (should be?) pro-poor and equity promoting, as well as the linkages between UHC efforts and the extension of social protection.

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