Despite the increasing popularity and adoption of social protection programmes in the region, South Asia has a large number of people who remain outside the social safety net. As most of these programmes are targeted rather than universal, and targeting failures often lead those with real and pressing needs to be excluded, exploring better approaches to social protection has become crucially urgent.
The COVID-19 crisis has further demonstrated how the relative absence of universal social protection schemes across the region has made it very challenging for countries to respond with effective recovery and stimulus packages. The reliance on targeted social protection across the region – with the exception of old-age pension in Nepal – has meant that countries have very small tax-financed social protection systems, characterized by low coverage and low-value transfers. As a result, it is not possible to rely on these schemes to reach those affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Development Pathways has, therefore, supported the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia in generating costing, impact and fiscal space analysis for Universal Child Benefits (UCBs) in South Asian countries. The aim was to propose immediate short-term policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis while demonstrating the inadequacy of current social protection systems to be able to offer an effective response.
A set of comprehensive reports investigated the potential and challenges of implementing UCBs in the region with the goal of understanding how UCBs relate to the strengthening of the social contract and social cohesion, improved cognitive capital development and achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Finally, they provided a platform to influence national policies and persuading governments to implement universal social protection systems, including universal child benefits. The paper below, “Emergency Universal Child Benefits: Addressing the Social and Economic Consequences of the COVID-19 Crises”, details our findings and recommendations.