Socio-Economic Rights to Protect People

Socio-economic rights to protect people from hardship can be seen as an economic, moral and political imperative.

The scope of socio-economic rights is suggested in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Appendix 1).  They can include unemployment benefits, welfare, sick pay, social care, pensions, working conditions, health and education – as itemised in Articles 22-26.

This issue is partly economic, as described earlier (3.5.2), but it is treated here as making the moral case for people’s needs:

●  Pope Francis, for example, in his ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ Evangelii Gaudium, highlighted the damaging social impact of economic exclusion.

●  Amartya Sen, in The Idea of Justice, argued that a society could not be considered just unless everybody has the realistic opportunity to flourish that he called “capability”. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines the ‘capability approach’:

“Capabilities are the real freedoms that people have to achieve their potential doings and beings. Real freedom in this sense means that one has all the required means necessary to achieve that doing or being if one wishes to. That is, it is not merely the formal freedom to do or be something, but the substantial opportunity to achieve it.”

There is more agreement about what people need than about how those needs should be met.  Individualists and collectivists have sharply contrasting perspectives on what, if any, socio-economic rights should be guaranteed by a government – as described in separate sub-sections below:

●  Socio-economic rights can be established as entitlements guaranteed by the State (;

●  or they might be met by families, friends and a network of private charities (

Most countries deliver socio-economic rights in both these ways, but the public-private split varies widely – and has to be resolved by political negotiation, as discussed later (6.7.1).



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4243a.htm