Social security  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Social security is "any government system that provides monetary assistance to people with an inadequate or no income." In the United States, this is usually called welfare or a social safety net, especially when talking about Canada and European countries.

Social security is asserted in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

In simple terms, the signatories agree that the society in which a person lives should help them to develop and to make the most of all the advantages (culture, work, social welfare) which are offered to them in the country.

Social security may also refer to the action programs of an organization intended to promote the welfare of the population through assistance measures guaranteeing access to sufficient resources for food and shelter and to promote health and well-being for the population at large and potentially vulnerable segments such as children, the elderly, the sick and the unemployed. Services providing social security are often called social services.

Terminology in this area is somewhat different in the United States from in the rest of the English-speaking world. The general term for an action program in support of the well being of poor people in the United States is welfare program, and the general term for all such programs is simply welfare. In American society, the term welfare arguably has negative connotations. In the United States, the term Social Security refers to the US social insurance program for all retired and disabled people. Elsewhere the term is used in a much broader sense, referring to the economic security society offers when people are faced with certain risks. In its 1952 Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (nr. 102), the International Labour Organization (ILO) defined the traditional contingencies covered by social security as including:

  • Survival beyond a prescribed age, to be covered by old age pensions;
  • The loss of support suffered by a widowed person or child as the result of the death of the breadwinner (survivor’s benefit);
  • Responsibility for the maintenance of children (family benefit);
  • The treatment of any morbid condition (including pregnancy), whatever its cause (medical care);
  • A suspension of earnings due to pregnancy and confinement and their consequences (maternity benefit);
  • A suspension of earnings due to an inability to obtain suitable employment for protected persons who are capable of, and available for, work (unemployment benefits);
  • A suspension of earnings due to an incapacity for work resulting from a morbid condition (sickness leave benefit);
  • A permanent or persistent inability to engage in any gainful activity (disability benefits);
  • The costs and losses involved in medical care, sickness leave, invalidity and death of the breadwinner due to an occupational accident or disease (employment injuries).

People who cannot reach a guaranteed social minimum for other reasons may be eligible for social assistance (or welfare, in American English).

Modern authors often consider the ILO approach too narrow. In their view, social security is not limited to the provision of cash transfers, but also aims at security of work, health, and social participation; and new social risks (single parenthood, the reconciliation of work and family life) should be included in the list as well.


Social security may refer to:

  • social insurance, where people receive benefits or services in recognition of contributions to an insurance program. These services typically include provision for retirement pensions, disability insurance, survivor benefits and unemployment insurance.
  • services provided by government or designated agencies responsible for social security provision. In different countries, that may include medical care, financial support during unemployment, sickness, or retirement, health and safety at work, aspects of social work and even industrial relations.
  • basic security irrespective of participation in specific insurance programs where eligibility may otherwise be an issue. For instance, assistance given to newly arrived refugees for basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, education, money, and medical care.

A report published by the ILO in 2014 estimated that only 27% of the world's population has access to comprehensive social security.

See also





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Social security" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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