Icon Our WorkEmergency Universal Child Benefits: Addressing the Social and Economic Consequences of the COVID-19 Crisis in South Asia

The COVID-19 crisis is wreaking havoc on national economies across South Asia, with damaging consequences for the wellbeing of families and children. The crisis is universal, with those on middle and high incomes potentially the hardest hit.

As a response to the crisis, it is essential that South Asian countries implement large-scale rescue packages that provide a stimulus for their economies and protect families and businesses, while minimising the risk of widespread social unrest.

This paper, written in partnership with UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia, makes the case for South Asian countries to implement emergency Universal Child Benefits (UCB) during the COVID-19 crisis. An emergency UCB would be an important component of a broader rescue package and would ensure that the vast majority of households across South Asia access a minimum level of income support. The analysis in the paper shows that across five countries, a UCB costing 2 per cent of GDP over six months would provide the recipient population with an average of between 18 and 46 per cent of their pre-COVID expenditures, with particularly high benefits for those who were the poorest members of society prior to the crisis.

The benefits of a UCB to child wellbeing, the economy, social cohesion and political stability are therefore likely to be significant while recovery from the crisis will be much quicker that what is projected to happen with the measures that are currently in place.

Read more like this:

Our work Strengthening Social Contract through child-sensitive social protection: building a case for Universal Child Benefit in South Asia

Pathways’ Perspectives: What has the Covid-19 crisis taught us about social protection?

BlogNow more than ever, human rights considerations are vital for social protection responses to COVID-19

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  • I find the statement “The crisis is universal, with those on middle and high incomes potentially the hardest hit” rather odd. My personal experience in the UK, and my close daily contacts with children and those who take care of them in Odisha state in India, suggest the contrary; better off people are safely at home with light and gardens and salaries and pensions, while poorer casual and informal workers, particularly migrants, are suffering terribly. Not of course from the disease, but from the lock-downs.

    • Unfortunately, the crisis is no respecter of prior economic status. In South Asia, many people in the formal economy have lost their jobs and now find themselves without any income and savings completely depleted. But, I think that you are actually substantiating our point. We tried to show that those on middle-incomes in South Asia were, in reality, prior to the crisis living on low and insecure incomes: they are middle-income only in a relative sense. So, many migrants and casual workers are not at the very bottom of the income distribution but are, in reality, in the middle. And they are suffering badly and have lost most or all of their income. Our analysis in Sri Lanka indicates that it is this group that has been hit the hardest in relative terms.

      Those living in extreme poverty were, in reality, less integrated with the market so have been hit less. But, since they were barely surviving, even a relatively small impact has major repercussions for them.

      I hope this helps clarify.


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