“Analysis indicates that the number of children living in monetary poverty could rise by more than 100 million in 2020” – this is the claim made in the “A Foundation to End Child Poverty” report released today by Save the Children.
This eagerly-awaited new report brings forth the voices of children to showcase “how universal child benefits can build a fairer, more inclusive and resilient future”. It documents testimonials collated from children around the world about their experiences in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report provides real-time evidence on how the pandemic has affected their household incomes, and what they want their respective governments to do in response.
The economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to set back global economic progress by more than a decade. As countries and households around the world continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report highlights that calls to expand and strengthen government social protection measures are now almost universally accepted as critical for protecting citizens and supporting local economies. Research has suggested, that had more stringent universal social protection measures been put in place, this could have helped many countries better weather the ongoing pandemic and economic storm.
The reports posits that universal child benefits (UCBs) in particular, as a regular unconditional income transfer paid to caregivers of children, could have a positive impact in helping to bring children out of poverty.
A UNICEF case study analysis has presented strong rationales for introducing UCBs in low- and-middle income countries as it would make a “meaningful difference to the lives of the vast majority” whilst still being economically viable. The paper notes that a wide body of evidence has shown the substantial returns on investment that arise from investing in all children and emphasises its affordability. The paper makes the case that universal approaches provide a greater economic stimulus – much needed in the current context as countries recover from COVID-19.
Save the Children assert that “This would ensure basic income security for children in line with Sustainable Development Goal Target 1.3, which aims to establish social protection floors in all countries by 2030.” The paper further maps out strategies and arguments for governments to opt for universal social protection coverage over targeted approaches, which often leads to huge errors that exclude most children in need. The effectiveness of the targeting approach in social protection has been much scrutinised . Indeed, research into the effectiveness of targeted social protection found that such approaches have exclusion errors of as much as 82 per cent, i.e. leaving nearly all those in need of support without any.
The paper, therefore, makes a direct and urgent call to governments, donors and development partners to urgently support an expansion in social protection coverage of children and their caregivers. The analysis provides conclusive evidence that UCBs is possible for every country committed to “leaving no child behind”, so long as there is political will to do so. But, achieving UCBs will require a “joined-up effort”.
The case for universal social protection is being made stronger all the time, with even the IMF and the World Bank – previous advocates of targeted social protection – now advocating for universal approaches in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. As momentum builds and the evidence piles up in favour of universal social protection, will governments listen?
Read more like this:
Publication: Investing in the future: A universal benefit for Sri Lanka’s children – UNICEF
Podcast: “Investing in Child benefits in a COVID-19 World” – Yolande Wright and Nicholas Freeland