New issue of the Policy in Focus magazine gives an overview of the discussions held during the e-conference #whatsnextforSP

Worker receives her emergency employment payment.


What's next for social protection in light of COVID-19: country responses” is a special issue of the Policy in Focus magazine that aims to disseminate key discussions of the global e-conference “Turning the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?” held in October by the platform. 

It focuses on experiences presented in the event from countries in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Latin America and the Caribbean, regarding social protection responses to the crisis resulting from the pandemic. The first four articles of this issue, which are presented below, provide an overview of the debates that took place during the conference.  

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, the IPC-IG research team and partners have mapped many social protection responses in the global South, namely social assistance, social insurance and labour market measures. They came to a conclusion that emergency cash and in-kind transfers were the most prevalent social assistance instrument used in many countries.  

According to the introductory article of the magazine, “How countries in the global South have used social protection to attenuate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis?”, by Charlotte Bilo, Maya Hammad, Anna Carolina Machado, Lucas Sato, Fábio Veras Soares and Marina Andrade, “an important policy change that was observed during the crisis was the shift from targeting only the poorest populations to also including the ‘missing middle’, mainly informal workers who were often not receiving any social protection benefits before.” 

Introducing technological innovations (such as e-wallets and digital registration) and being able to mobilize resources quickly was another advance in social protection caused by the pandemic.  

“Evidence is already showing that the pandemic is exacerbating preexisting needs and inequalities, and that social protection is going to be even more necessary than before. Consequently, the sector is likely to face a scenario of resource constrains and increased needs, which is going to require courageous policy choices”, pointed out Rodolfo Beazley (SPACE), Valentina Barca (SPACE), and Martina Bergthaller in the article “How might the lessons from the response to COVID-19 influence future social protection policy and delivery?”

Shahra Razavi (ILO), in the article “The COVID-19 crisis: A turning point or a tragic setback?”, argues that while those with secure employment and adequate health care coverage have been able to weather the COVID-19 storm, 61.2 per cent of the global workforce—2 billion workers—remain uncovered by social protection systems, making them and their families particularly vulnerable to poverty. The author suggests that we are today at a turning point: we either turn the current crisis into an opportunity to build robust, comprehensive and universal social protection systems or we can “leave ourselves exposed to and unprepared for future shocks”. 

It has become clear that the protracted economic crisis is putting pressure on national budgets, and the continuation of new or expanded programmes will require more than just emergency budget allocations. Countries are likely to face important fiscal constraints (and pressures for austerity), in the near future, which may put social protection spending at risk. A national debate on progressive tax reforms and, in some contexts, debt relief, with support from the international community, will be needed.  

To conclude the overview part of the magazine, Michal Rutkowski, from the Word Bank, discusses in the article “The main lesson of COVID-19: Making social protection universal, adaptive and sustainable”, that social protection systems need three broad shifts to meet the challenges of the future: (i) to become universal and cover all people and not just a few; (ii) to be more responsive and resilient to shocks; and (iii) to receive appropriate and sustainable financing.  


Read a summary of each article here

Download the Policy in Focus magazine


Photo: ILO.