Handbook on Social Protection Systems

Handbook on Social Protection Systems

An invaluable companion for academics, students and practitioners on social protection policies, programmes and delivery mechanisms.

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This exciting and innovative handbook offers a comprehensive and globally relevant overview of the instruments, actors and design features of social protection systems, as well as their application and impacts in practice.

It is the first book that centres around system building globally, a theme that has gained political importance yet has received relatively little attention in academia.


Authors/contributors from 20+ countries






Case studies





Expert voices

‘A unique tour de force through the world of social protection. The volume is distinguished by a novel systemic approach that takes account of the entire range of instruments, institutions, policies and actors that make up social protection. First-rate experts from more than 20 countries get down to the nitty-gritty of social protection systems, combining overview chapters with exemplary case studies across the global South and North. This Handbook sets new standards! It is highly recommended to researchers and practitioners alike.’

Lutz Leisering University of Bielefeld, Germany

‘The Handbook provides a comprehensive introduction to social protection systems, their functions, components, and outcomes. Its global scope, astute treatment of theory and policy, and appropriate case studies, should ensure the Handbook becomes an indispensable resource for policy makers, students, and researchers alike.’

Armando Barrientos Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester, UK

‘The editors and contributors to the Handbook on Social Protection Systems have made an important contribution to the literature, ranging widely over the field and providing in-depth analyses of the complex dimensions of social protection policies and programs around the world. The Handbook will be the definitive work on social protection for many years to come and should be widely consulted.’

James Midgley University of California Berkeley, US

Social Protection 

The handbook defines social protection to be “the entirety of policies and programmes that protect people against poverty and risks to their livelihoods and well-being” (Loewe and Schüring, 2021).

It can, however, have different meanings and be understood in different ways.
Current master students talk about what social protection means to them, for whom social protection is and what they want to achieve or change in their country of origin.

Our contents

  • Part I: Instruments

    Part I on Instruments elaborates on five key social protection instruments: social transfers, social insurance, LMPs, social services and micro-insurance. The respective chapters discuss the concepts, the place of the instrument in the social protection system, the most important design parameters, the key take-aways in terms of evidence as well as the main challenges.

  • Part II: System Design

    Part II on System design discusses different parameters that are not exclusively decided at intervention level but also have to be determined at systems level. At the systems level, different priorities can be set when it comes to the financing mix, the main target group, the role of human rights standards as well as the mix of actors. Part II outlines different options to answer these questions, discusses their advantages and drawbacks and cumulates in a final chapter that outlines different systems’ approaches that can be taken to social protection.

  • Part III: Policy Coordination

    Part III on Policy coordination deals with the important question in what ways and with what kind of other policies social protection needs to be harmonised. Not only is it important to ensure that similar instruments are harmonised with one other but also that instruments are coordinated across different instrument groups to generate synergies, optimise effects and avoid duplications and disincentives. It is equally crucial to ensure policy coherence with other fields such as taxation and humanitarian policies. In this way, effects are not undone and build on each other. Part III finishes by introducing social budgeting as an important tool to coordinate social protection instruments through the allocation of funds to them.

  • Part IV: Groups in Focus

    Part IV on Groups in focus highlights the specific social protection needs of different groups in society that cannot be easily reached with a standardised toolbox. Part IV highlights how a social protection system needs to be designed so that it is inclusive of gender and disability aspects, pays attention to children as well as the elderly and also reaches out to groups that easily fall off the social protection radar such as the informal sector or refugees. Part IV not only specifies for each group different policy options and their respective implications but also attunes the reader to more implicit forms of discrimination.

  • Part V: Administration

    Part V on Administration spells out the delivery mechanisms and related debates of the two main social protection instruments, social transfers and social insurance, and then raises questions at systems level with respect to integrated data management, the portability of claims across systems within and across countries as well as decentralisation.

  • Part VI: Political Economy

    Part VI on Political economy highlights that social protection planning is not a purely technocratic matter but a political process where decisions are influenced not only by rational considerations but also powerful stakeholders. Part VI discusses in particular in what way international actors have shaped the social protection systems of LICs and MICs and looks into the role of public preferences in social protection design. Next to this, it identifies other factors that have led to the adoption of social protection and have favoured reform processes.

  • Part VII: Effects

    Part VII on Effects provides an overview of the databases and analytical methods used to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of social protection systems, while also zooming in on the evidence that exists so far on the effects of different social protection interventions on key outcome areas: poverty and inequality, food consumption and nutrition, health, economic development as well as social cohesion and nation building.

  • Part VIII: Major Challenges and Reform Options

    Part VIII on Major challenges and reform options closes the handbook by discussing the main future challenges for social protection systems and deliberating how these could best respond to the challenges. While demographic change, globalisation and the future of work have been well identified as relevant factors in this regard, climate change and pandemics such as COVID-19 have more recently become an item on the reform agenda of social protection systems.

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About the editors

Esther Schüring 

Professor of Social Protection Systems, Department of Social Policy and Social Security Studies, Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, University of Applied Sciences

Esther Schüring is a social scientist, specialising in the area of social protection policy. She is the academic head of an international master’s programme in social protection. Her main research interests focus on eliciting public preferences in social policy and in studying the role, acceptance and effects of targeting and conditionality in social protection design.

Markus Loewe 

Head of the Middle East and North Africa Research Team, Research Programme “Transformation of Economic and Social Systems“, German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), Germany

Markus Loewe studied development economics and political science in Tübingen, Erlangen and Damascus and got his PhD from Heidelberg University for a thesis on micro insurance. In 2015, he was offered a chair at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg but rejected it. His research foci include social protection, poverty, small enterprise development, investment promotion and the notion of the social contract.

Contributor team

Alex M. van den Heever
Alexandre Côte
Ali Akbar Tajmazinani
Alma Sofia
Andrea Salvini
Armin von Schiller
Arthur van de Meerendonk
Ashrita Saran
Barbara Rohregger
Benson Chisanga
Bernd Schubert
Brian Mathebula
Cécile Cherrier
Chris de Neubourg
Christoph Strupat
Daniele Malerba
Dominique La Salle
Esther Schüring
Esztar Timár
Fernanda Teixeira
Francesco Burchi
Gabriele Koehler
Garima Bhalla
George Bolits
Jeremey Seekings
Joachim Betz
John Woodall
Julia Karpati
Keetie Roelen
Krzysztof Hagemejer
Larissa Pelham
Latha Radhakrishnan
Ludovico Carraro
Madhumitha Hebbar
Mari Kangasniemi
Markus Kaltenborn
Markus Loewe
Marta S.L. Marzi
Maryam Ebrahimi
Miguel Niño-Zarazúa
Mikko Perkiö
Mira Bierbaum
Natalia Winder Rossi
Nicola Jones
Rachel Slater
Richard Chirchir
Salla Atkins
Stephen Devereux
Valentina Barca
Veronika Wodsak
Victor Cebotari
Yaser Bagheri


The editors are extremely grateful for the generous funding provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ) through GIZ (for editing of the manuscript and the production of the mobile phone version) as well as through and with support by the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) in Bonn. Special thanks also go to the Department of Social Policy and Social Security Studies at the Hochschule Bonn Rhein-Sieg, University of Applied Sciences (H-BRS) for its financial support.

We certainly would not have been able to produce the multi-media version without the excellent support of Sayanti Sengupta, Anas Ghonaim, Darleen Kolbe as well as Kerstin Schickendanz.