The Right to Social Security

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The right to social security is protected in a number of treaties the UK has ratified. The European Social Charter (ESC) Articles 13 and 14, also guarantee the rights to social and medical assistance and to benefit from social welfare services. 

The right to social security provides a right to access and maintain benefits, whether in cash or in kind, without discrimination for the purposes of protection from lack of income, unaffordable health care or insufficient family support.

The right to social security requires that a sustainable social security system is available and established under domestic law. The eligibility criteria must be reasonable, proportionate and transparent. While it is up to Government to decide what model is most appropriate, the right requires the social security system to provide coverage of the following nine principal branches of social security: ​

  • Healthcare
  • Sickness
  • Old age
  • Unemployment
  • Employment injury
  • Family, child support and maternity
  • Disability
  • Survivors and orphans

Key considerations:



The social security that is available must be affordable and adequate in relation to the period of time it is available.


Social security arrangements must also be accessible, ensuring that all persons are covered. Particular consideration should be given to individuals belonging to the most disadvantaged and marginalised groups. Measures should be in place to provide support to those individuals and groups who are unable to make sufficient contributions.


Non-nationals should be able to benefit from their contributions to the social security scheme. They should also be able to access non-contributory schemes for income support, family support and access to health care. All persons, irrespective of their nationality, residency or immigration status, are entitled to primary and emergency medical care under the right to social security.


The social security system must also take into account gender related differences, such as considering periods to take care of dependents or differences in the average life expectancy of men and women. Non-contributory schemes must also take account of the fact that women are more likely to live in poverty than men and often have sole responsibility for the care of children.