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The Promise of Universal Child Benefits: The Foundational Policy for Economic and Social Development


ILO releases new study highlighting that UCBs are a critical form of social protection, intended to promote the long-term well-being of children.

Child poverty stands as one of the world’s most pressing challenges, hindering the realisation of the SDGs and children’s rights, including those to survival, education, and protection. Yet, children are largely excluded from national social security systems. Globally, only 28.1 per cent of children aged 0–15 years has access to a child or family benefit, leaving them vulnerable to the potentially irreversible and long-lasting impacts of disease, missed education, poor nutrition, poverty and inequality on their future health and wellbeing.

Gaps and inequalities in public investment and coverage worldwide undermine the effectiveness of social protection in fostering positive outcomes for children, families, and society. On average, national expenditure on child social protection stands at only 1.1% of GDP across all countries, far from sufficient to bridge coverage disparities and provide adequate support to the most vulnerable families. As countries and households around the world continue to feel the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and conflict, child poverty rates are likely to grow without significant and concerted action.

In a new policy brief titled: The promise of universal child benefits: The foundational policy for economic and social development, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) explains how investing in universal child benefits (UCB) offers a proven and cost-effective way to combat child poverty and ensure children’s health, wellbeing, and prosperity, in line with the right to social security for all children (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). The brief identifies a set of policy design considerations, informed by international social security standards, intended to support countries considering enhancing or establishing a UCB.

The evidence shows UCBs to be a cost-effective way to reduce child poverty with the potential to meet a broader array of social and economic goals. UCBS are also more efficient in reducing child income poverty rates than targeted approaches, as they provide consistent income support for all eligible children without targeting errors, conditionalities or disincentives to parents. Indeed, countries with comprehensive UCB systems, such as Denmark, Estonia, and Finland, consistently report lower child income poverty rates than those without a UCB in place.

UCBs constitute a core component of a universal social protection system intended to protect children’s rights and wellbeing, establishing the foundation for country’s to optimise and prioritise investment in children’s futures. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the impacts of investing in UCBs, which can:

  • Enable every child to fulfil their potential by addressing child poverty and wellbeing;
  • build and sustain social cohesion and reduce inequality;
  • enable countries to seize their latent demographic dividend;
  • accelerate human capability development, with long-term impacts on societies and economies;
  • build the resilience of today’s and tomorrow’s children to the challenge posed by the climate crisis;
  • provide a foundation for social protection systems, including when crisis hits;
  • bolster public expenditure on children in all contexts by guaranteeing children a lifetime minimum income;
  • enable countries to seize their latent demographic dividend; and;
  • UCBs – designed with everyone in mind – can enjoy broad political support.


To bolster efforts to monitor and reduce the social security coverage gaps of children, Save the Children, ILO and UNICEF have developed the Global Child Benefits Tracker, an online platform to monitor children’s access to social protection and identify gaps in existing social protections systems in over 180 countries. The purpose of this platform is to serve as a knowledge tool for use in designing social protections schemes for children, intended for use by policymakers in government and international development programmes, social protection programmes, and civil society organizations.