A new issue of the Policy in Focus magazine presents country cases of social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic

Informal worker sells cellphones accessories at a stall in Saddar, Pakistan, 2021


Given the success of the global online conference Turning the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?” and to further disseminate its key discussions, the socialprotection.org platform and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) have developed two special issues of its flagship publication, the magazine Policy in Focus. The first issue, launched in March 2021, is titled "What's next for social protection in light of COVID-19: country responses" and focuses on experiences from countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Latin America and the Caribbean, regarding social protection responses to the crisis resulting from the pandemic, as well as overall lessons for the future—including shock-responsive and universal social protection. The second issue will be launched soon.  

The issue is divided into four sections. The first four articles provide an overview of the discussions that took place during the first day of the conference. The second section presents country cases from Latin America. The third section consists of articles detailing responses from countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and sub-Saharan Africa. The fourth and final section of the magazine includes articles that discuss the social protection responses to the pandemic in Asian countries. 

The introductory article, “How countries in the global South have used social protection to attenuate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis?”, by Charlotte Bilo, Maya Hammad, Anna Carolina Machado, Lucas Sato, Fábio Veras Soares and Marina Andrade, provides a panorama of social protection responses in the global South during the pandemic, namely social assistance, social insurance and labour market measures.  

In “How might the lessons from the response to COVID-19 influence future social protection policy and delivery?”, Rodolfo Beazley (SPACE), Valentina Barca (SPACE), and Martina Bergthaller argue that due to the unique characteristics of the pandemic, social protection has broken new ground. The sector is likely to face resource constraints and increased needs, a scenario which is going to require courageous policy choices to overcome. 

Shahra Razavi (ILO), in the article “The COVID-19 crisis: A turning point or a tragic setback?”,  points out that while those with secure employment and adequate health care coverage have been able to weather the COVID-19 storm, 61.2 per cent of the global workforce—2 billion workers—remain uncovered by social protection systems, making them and their families particularly vulnerable to poverty. The author suggests that we are today at a turning point: we either turn the current crisis into an opportunity to build robust, comprehensive and universal social protection systems or we can “leave ourselves exposed to and unprepared for future shocks”. 

In “The main lesson of COVID-19: Making social protection universal, adaptive and sustainable”, Michal Rutkowski (Word Bank) discusses that social protection systems need three broad shifts to meet the challenges of the future. They need to (i) become universal and cover all people and not just a few;(ii) be more responsive and resilient to shocks; and (iii) receive appropriate and sustainable financing.  

Nilza Yamasaki (National Secretary of the Single Registry) and Fabiana Rodopoulos (National Secretary of Citizenship Income) discuss, in the article “Emergency Aid: The Brazilian response to an unprecedented challenge”, what have been the largest income transfers in Brazilian history, considering both the number of beneficiaries and the size of the allocated budget. The Emergency Aid and its extension were approved by the Brazilian Congress, and their objective was to guarantee a regular flow of income to members of the population with lower levels of per capita income, due to the continuing economic crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the article “Tools to protect families in Chile: A State at the service of its people”, Alejandra Candia, Sub-secretary of Social Evaluation at Chile’s Ministry of Social Development and Family, stresses that in times of emergency, the role of the State is fundamental to avoid or reverse the setbacks that families may suffer and presents the instruments designed by her country to protect health, income and employment of households in times of emergency.  

The Director of Social Development of the National Planning Department in Colombia, Laura Pabón, in her artlicle “Colombia’s experience in addressing the COVID-19 crisis”, discusses the cash transfer programmes designed to protect income losses and support human capital accumulation of the poorest households in the country, as well as lessons learned and steps to follow.  

In “Lessons learned from Jordan’s national social protection response to COVID-19”, Manuel Rodriguez Pumarol, Ahmad Abu Haider, Nayef Ibrahim Alkhawaldeh, Muhammad Hamza Abbas and Satinderjit Singh Toor, from UNICEF Jordan, indicate that despite recording a limited number of cases during the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the entire world. While these measures initially helped contain the virus, they came at a high social and economic cost. However, three months into the crisis, the country managed to provide more social protection programmes and interventions than any other country in the MENA region (United Nations 2020). 

Karima Kessaba and Mahdi Halmi, from UNICEF Morocco, in the article “Morocco’s social protection response to COVID-19 and beyond—towards a sustainable social protection floor”, argue that from the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, the country adopted drastic measures to contain the pandemic. A recent study highlighted that as a result of the measures put in place by the government, child poverty has increased to 5.1 per cent, instead of the 10 per cent that was projected in the absence of these measures. 

In the article “The role of Namibia’s civil registration and identity system in the country’s COVID-19 social response”, Anette Bayer Forsingdal, Tulimeke Munyika (Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Security and Safety, Government of the Republic of Namibia) and Zoran Đokovic analyse Namibia’s Emergency Income Grant. This was the first time the Namibian government used electronic identity data to facilitate social protection programming and the distribution of grants. 

Martin Yaba Mambou, Lisile Ganga and Cinthia Acka-Douabele, from UNICEF Congo, are the authors of “The Republic of Congo’s social protection response before and during COVID-19: Perspectives from the Lisungi programme”. Lisungi is a government-led cash transfer programme, targeting the most vulnerable households, with conditionalities such as schooling and vaccination of children, as well as follow-up prenatal medical appointments for pregnant women. Programme beneficiaries are paid in cash through banks, microcredit institutions or telephone operators, according to the beneficiary’s choice.  

In the article “Tackling poverty amidst COVID-19: How Pakistan’s emergency cash programme averted an economic catastrophe”, the Federal Minister and Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Sania Nishtar, discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic was a watershed period for the country in terms of government functioning: making it more agile, data-driven, experimental, and ambitious.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic has remained limited in Cambodia, the associated economic downturn is impacting key sectors such as  exports, tourism and foreign direct investments in construction. In the article “Cambodia’s social protection response to COVID-19”, Theng Pagnathun, Delegate of the Royal Government of Cambodia in charge of the Directorate-General of Planning, Sabine Cerceau (GIZ) and Emily de Riel discuss how the Royal Government of Cambodia moved quickly to fund and scale up a cash transfer programme.  

Closing the issue, the article “How to overcome the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Indonesia?”, by Fisca Aulia and Maliki, Ministry of National Development Planning (BAPPENAS), aimed to shed light on what needs to be done for Indonesia to sustain its ongoing fight against poverty and mitigate the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on poor people. Authors also assess options for making the country’s social protection system more shock-responsive in the future. 

All articles were written in late 2020 by the conference’s panellists and/or organisers of. 

The full issue is available for download here


Photo: IMF Photo/Saiyna Bashir. <https://is.gd/LNU8l4>