Universal basic income, food security, health- and migrant-responsive social protection in new issue of the Policy in Focus magazine

Scientists at a lab


Four articles of the latest issue of the Policy in Focus magazine—“What’s next for social protection in light of COVID-19: challenges ahead”—discuss specific types of social protection responses during the COVID-19 pandemic: food security and nutrition; health protection and sickness benefits; migrant-responsive social protection; and universal basic income.

In their article “Health protection and sickness benefits to face the COVID 19 pandemic in Asia”, authors Maya Stern-Plaza, Lou Tessier, Luis Frota (International Labour Organization—ILO), and Knut Lönnroth (Karolinska Institute) state that some Asian countries saw the current health crisis as an opportunity to build on existing social assistance registration and identification mechanisms. Such was the case of Cambodia, which updated its identification system to improve coverage of poor households. As a result, an additional 600,000 people were registered for both cash transfer relief and health care coverage. 

Vietnam removed co-payments related to COVID-19 testing and detection; China ensured free testing and made medical treatment readily accessible to all persons, insured or not; and both countries facilitated the acquisition of medications for chronic diseases to try and reduce medical visits. 

The authors point to the importance of building on lessons learned from these temporary measures to achieve more sustainable, comprehensive, and universally effective access to affordable health care services and adequate sickness benefits for all. 

The article “Migrant-responsive social protection: Lessons from COVID-19”, by Gift Dafuleya (University of Johannesburg), Marius Olivier (The International Institute for Social Law and Policy), Jason Theede (International Organization for Migration—IOM), Giulia Baldi (World Food Programme—WFP), and Teona Aslanishvili (United Nations Children’s Fund—UNICEF), examines the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on migrant populations and presents a set of recommendations. 

Approximately four million Venezuelans had fled the country by August 2020. In the Middle East and North Africa, the COVID-19 crisis could lead to an additional 12 million children experiencing poverty in the short term. 

Children of migrant workers left behind in their countries of origin suffer from reduced or delayed remittances and potentially longer periods of separation from their migrant parents. Some governments have extended social protection schemes to their most vulnerable citizens, but this excludes migrants and migrant workers. Exclusion can be costly in the long term, whereas early inclusion benefits everyone. 

Conversely, some countries have adjusted their legal frameworks to enable migrants to access social protection during the COVID-19 crisis. Brazil, for example, has a favourable legal framework that allows asylum-seekers and refugees to access social assistance programmes.


What’s next?


The increased interest in strengthening social protection by experimenting with unconditional cash transfers before and during the COVID-19 pandemic provides the momentum needed to seriously consider the need for universal basic income.

The article “Transitioning from emergency transfers: What is the future of universal basic income?”, by Louise Haagh (University of York), Mansour Ndiaye and Claudia Vinay (United Nations Development Programme—UNDP), provides inputs towards a gradual expansion of conditional and means-tested transfers into stable entitlements. 

Building long-term funding for universal basic income requires consolidating and expanding fiscal capacity and State-supported shared savings systems, in addition to encouraging stable and formal employment. 

It is also important to note that universal basic income is not a silver bullet and requires the strengthening of institutions and public services, including health care and education, so that the cash transferred to citizens does not just end up paying for privatised basic services. 

Food security and nutrition are at the core of these emerging agendas. In “Placing food security and nutrition at the heart of social protection policy and programming now and in the future”, Juan Gonzalo Jaramillo Mejia (World Food Programme – WFP) discusses some of the persistent challenges that social protection faces to achieve positive nutritional outcomes, and how they have been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

The prevalence of child wasting could rise by over 14 per cent due to the pandemic, but undernutrition is not the only form of malnutrition. People with obesity who contracted COVID-19 were 113 per cent more likely to require hospitalisation, and 48 per cent more likely to die than non-obese people. Overweight and obesity disproportionately affect poor people, as unhealthy diets have become cheaper and more physically accessible than healthy ones. 

Nevertheless, increasing people’s income security does not always translate into positive nutritional outcomes, due to the high cost of healthy diets and difficulties in accessing a diverse array of nutritious foods.  

Authors recommend that the short-term COVID-19 responses should be translated into long-term shifts, and that governments place food security and nutrition at the heart of their social protection policy and practice.

Download the publication: “What’s next for social protection in light of COVID-19: challenges ahead


Photo: Eric Sales / Asian Development Bank 


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