This paper frames the discussion of social protection, social policy and vulnerability within a political economy and macro structural consideration of the developmental challenges faced in the context of contemporary rapid population growth. The case is made that the prospects of an additional two billion people by mid-century need to be urgently pre-empted by implementing employment and equity-focused development strategies now, within which the scaling up of social protection needs to play a pivotal role. This case is made in three steps. First, many of the common discourses and debates about the impoverishing consequences of rapid population growth are critically reviewed in order to lay out a political economy understanding of vulnerability in the context of population growth and to offer a more subtle distinction between processes of human development on one hand, and processes of capitalist economic development. Second, the relationship between population transitions and labour force transitions is sketched out, noting that the latter are primarily driven by the former even in contexts where off-farm and/or urban (formal and/or decent) employment generation remains austere. Third, given the very common contemporary reality of employment-austere growth in the Global South, there is a crucial need for strong redistributive mechanisms and institutions within contemporary development policy, within which the scaling up of social protection systems towards more universalistic forms of social policy can play a key role. This case corroborates with past experiences of successful late industrialisation, albeit these past lessons arguably hold with even greater precedence today, particularly considering the complementary role that well functioning social policy systems also play in reducing population growth through non-coercive and right-respecting means.

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Keywords social policy, social protection
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Note Submission for 2011 conference, ‘Social Protection for Social Justice’, Centre for Social Protection, IDS, Brighton, UK, 13-15 April 2011