The Right to Social Security

adminSocial security rights review

by Bill Mitchell, Principal Solicitor at Townsville Community Legal Service

The Right to Social Security is reflected in a range of human rights instruments. It first appeared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at article 22 and 25. The UDHR was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. It set out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected including Article 22:

Article 22 : 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.

Article 25 reflects the interrelated right to an adequate standard of living, which extends to “the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” The UDHR is a non-binding declaration of States Parties (Members of the United Nations).

Other human rights treaties incorporate the right to social security:

  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) at article 26 which creates a right to Freedom from Discrimination which applies to the right to social security;
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) at articles 9 which recognises a right to social security and 10 about measures of protection and assistance for families and mothers;
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) at article 26;
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) at articles 11 and 14;
  • The Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at article 5; and
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) at article 28.

In the case of each treaty, the right is adapted to address the particular needs of the rights holders under the particular treaty. For example, the CRPD asserts rights to social protections for persons with disability in a range of settings.

In General Comment no 19 (2007) On the Right to Social Security the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights clarified the right to social security and set out the normative content of the right to social security which includes the elements of the right to social security. The elements in turn include a range of key issues around availability, social contingencies (health care, sickness, old age, unemployment, employment injury, family and child support, maternity, disability, and survivors and orphans) adequacy, accessibility (coverage, eligibility, affordability, participation, access) and special topics.

Additionally, the General Comment looks at Special topics of broad application around the right including non-discrimination and equality, gender equality, protection of workers, indigenous person and minority groups, non-nationals, and internally displaced persons. It also sets out the States obligations with respect to the right.

United Nations Treaty Bodies monitor States Party compliance with the rights under each treaty. Some treaty bodies can also look at individual cases through the system of complaints.

In September 2017, it was reported that Juanita McLaren and the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children lodged a complaint with the UN about the Australian government’s changes to parenting payments. These changes included moving parents onto the lower unemployment payment at an earlier stage in their child’s life, and reducing the  income threshold for the payment. Ms McLaren argued that the changes violated human rights protections found in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A short media article about this complaint is available here.

A PDF diagram outlining the various human rights instruments is available here.

The NSSRN will hold a free webinar on this topic in early 2018. Further details will be posted on this website.