Over recent years, social protection strategies have rapidly gained striking political support and widespread acceptance in development discourse and practice. However, although development actors generally acknowledge that human rights should play an essential role in poverty reduction, there has been a lack of deep analysis of the implications of human rights obligations for social protection. This article attempts to bridge the two paradigms, building on the author’s existing work on social protection and human rights. Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona discusses how the persistent stigma around poverty among politicians, policy-makers and the general public has been a major obstacle to achieving the full potential of social protection to tackle poverty. She argues that the human rights approach to social protection can help to dismantle the fallacy of the “undeserving poor”, towards a model in which people living in poverty are understood as individuals with inherent dignity and entitlements to social protection. The article concludes with a case study of how this approach would inform gender-sensitive social protection programmes, for example with regard to eligibility criteria, participation and conditionalities.