Sound economic arguments exist for social security in a market system, since it can promote efficiency and equity. Furthermore, social security can reduce the risks of economic insecurities caused by unemployment, poverty and the new international economic environment to individuals and society. For a developing country, South Africa has a relatively well-developed social security system. However, it cannot address all the needs without major fiscal adjustments. The most viable approach may be to target only the most vulnerable groups, although such an approach may be criticised from an equity perspective. An important limitation of the South African social security system is that many unemployed individuals go without coverage, which may contribute towards instability. It may be necessary to revisit public works programmes in conjunction with the private sector.