Over the past two months, the number of countries that have planned, introduced or adapted social protection measures in response to COVID-19 has quadrupled – and those measures eightfold. As of today, a total of 181 countries, 10 more than last week, have a total of 870 social protection measures. This week’s new countries and territories include Afghanistan, Maldives, Micronesia, Northern Mariana Islands (US), Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, and West Bank and Gaza.
Social assistance transfers are the most widely used class of interventions. These non-contributory programs account for 60.1% of global responses, or 523 measures. Among safety nets, cash transfer programs account for half of intervention by governments, with their 264 COVID-related measures representing one-third (30.3%) of total social protection programs.
Both cash-based and in-kind transfers have been growing steadily, with cash accounting for a much larger number of measures. While cash only accounts for half of overall social assistance, this is because other measures such as public works and utility waivers also account for a significant non-cash share (26.5%). Cash-based measures are over twice those of in-kind programs. About 56% of cash transfer measures (148 out of 264) are new programs in 104 countries, while one-fourth of measures (24.6%) are one-off payments. A significant number of new in-kind programs (83) has been also been introduced, accounting for about 69% of total in-kind measures.
Cash transfers include programs of various duration. The duration of programs ranges from 1 to 6 months, for an average of 3.1 months. In some cases, programs are tied to the duration of the crisis, hence with uncertain duration. This is the case, for example, in Morocco and Tuvalu.
The size of cash transfers is relatively generous. Current transfers account for an average 27% of monthly GDP per capita in respective countries (the highest increase, or 47%, is registered in low income countries). On average, transfers have more than doubled (+134%) compared to average pre-COVID transfer levels (where data is available for a subset of 17 countries). Mongolia’s Child Money Program is increasing benefits from about MVT 10,000 in pre-Covid time to MNT 100,000.
More and more adaptation! Increases in benefits among preexisting programs are implemented in 45 countries, including transfer value being increased in 45 programs (e.g., Egypt) and additional payment cycles taking place in 18 programs (e.g., Chile). Various administrative adaptations are occurring in 41 countries. Coverage extension is underway in 157 countries: this includes expanding coverage of existing programs (23 cases) and 362 new social assistance programs (6 of which universal). Combined, those adaptations across administration, generosity and coverage in social assistance benefit over 1.7 billion people (individuals). The same estimate applied only applied to cash transfers lead to an estimated 1.3 billion people benefiting from such adaptations. If we only consider coverage (horizontal expansion) of new and existing cash transfer schemes, these cover an estimated 890 million people.
One of immediate challenges to scaling up cash transfers in response to COVID-19 is to accurately expand the list of beneficiaries. A total of 111 countries responding to COVID-19 include an expansion of cash coverage. The two most common ways of expanding the number of cash transfer recipients are (i) to add households from existing social registries and (ii) accept applications on-line and/or with mobile applications. A third approach, far less common, is to use the presence or absence in other large databases to identify new eligible individuals or households. Whichever approach is used, new beneficiaries must be informed that they are eligible for benefits. The most common method is to use mass communication to instruct people to check their status through an on-line or mobile application. This process is facilitated when an identifier known to the individual such as mobile phone number or national ID number allows access to this information. In some cases, an automatic message is sent through the phone provider indicating eligibility status and other program information (e.g. Pakistan and planned in Zimbabwe). New illustrations from Brazil, Ecuador, Jordan, Pakistan and Peru show how coverage expansion is done in practice.
In terms of social insurance, there has been a remarkable uptick in measures recently – now including 236 measures in 117 countries. Among the most popular interventions, social security contributions have been waived or subsidized in 56 programs – a level similar to paid sick leave measures (52). Unemployment benefits are present in 69 cases.
The number of labor market interventions is over triple digit. Interventions are now a notable 111 in 74 countries. Wage subsidies continue to dominate those interventions. As discussed in the previous editions, there is considerable diversity in generosity and accompanying conditions. Alongside wage subsidies, 14 countries are strengthening their active labor market programs, particularly intermediation services and skills training. Labor market regulations are being adapted in 20 countries.
New analysis shows trends and composition in regional measures. ECA has the highest upward trend, with LAC accelerating in recent weeks. Su-Saharan Africa has been on a steady raise, with North America relatively flat. Social assistance accounts for most of Africa’s Covid-related response, with the largest share of social insurance appearing in higher-income countries of North America and ECA. East Asia’s composition shows the highest share of labor market programs globally.