Right to Social Security

While the right to social security is its self a stand alone right at international law, the adequacy of entitlements under social assistance must be set at levels that ensure other rights such as the right to an adequate standard of living are realized.  Ontario offers its citizens access to some social security programs principally through Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Works.  However, given the high levels of poverty, hunger, and homelessness among program recipients, the adequacy of these social assistance schemes should be challenged.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has recognized that in many states the denial of adequate social security has undermined the realization of other Covenant Rights.  Particularly the Committee has also emphasized that the methods applied by states to realize covenant rights “should ensure the adequacy of benefits.” The adequacy criteria should be monitored regularly to ensure that beneficiaries are able to afford the goods and services they require to realize their Covenant rights.”[1] Also, given the fact that the government of Ontario has cited these legislative schemes as evidence of its compliance with international human rights law (see the “Provincial law and Institutions” section of the webpage) it should be argued that the financial assistance component of social security benefits be interpreted and implemented consistently with Ontario’s obligations under international human rights law, particularly the right to provide adequate levels of social security.  To the degree that the failure to provide adequate levels of social security results in homelessness, hunger, and ill-health (among vulnerable communities) it can be argued that  an individual’s international human rights are being violated.  Also, the restrictive criteria for qualification for these programs places additional burdens on Ontarians who already face a variety of social, cultural or economic barriers and often results in their being denied adequate financial support or any support at all.  It can be argued that the discriminatory impact of Ontario’s social security programs against historically disadvantaged groups violates the rights under international law against non-discrimination. For arguments/analysis related specifically to the social security schemes in Ontario click here.

For all international jurisprudence relating to the Right to social security in Word format click here.

[1] United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 19: The Right to Social Security (art 9), UNCESCROR, 39th Sess, UN Doc E/C.12/GC/19, (2007) at para 22.


Treaty Provision Text
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, art. 22, 25(1) “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security” (art. 22)Everyone has the “right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control” (art. 25(1)).
International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights art. 9 The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance.”
International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, art. 5 In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the following rights:(e) Economic, social and cultural rights, in particular:

(iv) The right to public health, medical care, social security and social services;”

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 11 1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular:(e) The right to social security, particularly in cases of retirement, unemployment, sickness, invalidity and old age and other incapacity to work, as well as the right to paid leave;”  
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, art. 14 “1. States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy, and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure the application of the provisions of the present Convention to women in rural areas.(c) To benefit directly from social security programmes;”
Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 26 1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.”



Declaration Provision Text
Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “Indigenous peoples have the right, without discrimination, to the improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security” (art. 21(1))

Concluding Observations: 

General Comments:

Other Jurisprudence:

For more context specific observations made by various UN bodies regarding Canada’s performance under various international treaties click here.

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