This blog summarises the findings, insights and recommendations shared by our expert panel in the webinar ‘Inclusion of persons with disabilities in social protection for COVID-19 recovery and beyond’ which was held on September 1st, 2020 and co-organised by the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The speakers were Alex Cote, from the UNPRPD-ILO-UNICEF Inclusive Social Protection program; Meenakshi Balasubramanian, from the Centre for Inclusive Policy; Fatma Wangare, from Inclusion Africa; Karishma Huda, from the Makhota program Indonesia; and Joaozito dos Santos, from Ra'es Hadomi Timor Oan. The discussion was moderated by Felicity O’Brien, from DFAT’s Social Protection Section.

You can view the presentation slides and recording here.

COVID-19 has highlighted inequality gaps and disempowering structures in all societies, drawing attention to the reality that persons with disability, in particular, have been living at the intersection of poverty and exclusion for too long. Estimates are that less than 30% of people with a severe disability worldwide have any social protection coverage at all. In this webinar, speakers discussed the gaps, barriers and opportunities for the inclusion of persons with a disability in social protection systems and complimentary services, to ensure their full, dignified and effective participation globally.

Alex Cote provided us with a global overview on persons with disabilities and inequalities pre-COVID-19. In comparison with the general community, persons with a disability face significant extra costs related to disability specific expenditures, such as assistive devices and increased transportation costs. In addition, there are also indirect costs due to social stigma and barriers around accessing educational and employment opportunities, as well as basic health care.

Now with significant disruptions to livelihoods and carer support systems and networks due to COVID-19, these inequities are becoming more pronounced. Learning from the COVID-19 crisis so far, we have seen significant gaps in the capacity of countries to provide support to persons with a disability through this economic and social crisis. It is essential that social protection systems are disability-inclusive, addressing the major challenges governments are facing, especially in countries that do not have up to date registries and the capacity to ensure essential and accessible service delivery. There can be catastrophic consequences when persons with a disability and other vulnerable citizens fall through the cracks and are not supported by social safety nets.

Meenakshi Balasubramanian, from the Centre for Inclusive Policy, presented an initial analysis on India’s response to COVID-19 and its impact on persons with disabilities. Due to lockdown restrictions, 57% of the survey respondents expressed having financial challenges, 42.1% reported not having accessible information and communication on COVID-19 related issues, and 42.1% did not have access to support services. In response to these challenges, the Indian Government implemented a one-off pension of INR 1000 paid in 3 months through the National Social Assistance Program (NSAP - Indira Gandhi Disability Pension), specially for people with disability, and guidelines to ensure accessibility of services. However, a report from the National Centre for Promotion of employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) shows that too little was done only for too few people – there was no coverage to children with disabilities, and only 7.6% of working age persons with disabilities were covered by the Gandhi Disability Pension (NSAP) used to provide COVID-19 relief. Please see more details below:


Fatma Wangare, from Inclusion Africa, presented us the African context, in which less than 7% of persons with significant disabilities access disability related social protection benefits. During the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been good practice across the region, such as:

  • Mauritius: home delivery of food;
  • South Africa: increase of disability allowance;
  • Kenya: additional temporary disability scheme;
  • Sierra Leone: distribution of rice and one-off cash payment.

Looking at the Kenya’s context, an important programme was the Inua Jamii, which provide a social protection system through regular and predictable cash transfer. Regarding the disability theme, the programme identifies and targets households with persons with severe disabilities, but the restricted eligibility criteria means that only 5% of persons with significant disabilities receive the benefit. The National council for Persons with Disabilities has set aside Kshs 200 million to cushion 33,333 persons with disabilities against the effect of the pandemic, but this time the targeting was done at the community level with the involvement of multi-agency approach although the eligibility criteria remained the same.

In Timor-Leste, Joaozito dos Santos presented the situation of the country before COVID-19 pandemic, which was two thirds of its population living on less than US$ 2 per day and around 38 thousand people with disability. During the pandemic, the government interventions did not consider the inclusion needs of people with disabilities keeping information as well as handwashing facilities inaccessible. Only some INGOs and Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) provided humanitarian support during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as delivering food, posters, hand washing liquids, face masks and other basic needs. Moreover, the scheme implemented by Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion, the COVID 19 Subsidy for Family and Household presented some serious barriers for people with disabilities, such as lack of accessible information from community leader, lack ofrequired documents and long/bureaucratic process, most people with disabilities do not live in a established household and do not have access to household/family card (Fixa de Familia), among others, which resulted in no access to the benefit.

Looking at Indonesia context, Karishma Huda, from the Makhota program Indonesia, shared how COVID-19 impacted their population with disability with the findings of a research from her team. Around 60% of respondents are engaged in informal work, have unpredictable income and are highly susceptible to income shock during a crisis. The most striking information was that up to 69% of respondents may have become poor or fallen deeper into poverty after COVID-19. Please see more details below:


Among the government response measures as of June 2020, there were food assistance, conditional cash transfer, electricity subsidy, cash and vocational training, village fund cash transfers, cash stimulus for Micro-Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and rice transfer programmes. By July 2020, most people with disability that was interviewed received some form of social protection during the pandemic due to the combination of national, local and village level assistance. Cash transfers are seen to be the most significant form of assistance for them as it helps address specific needs related to their disabilities.

After the presentations, panellists discussed key recommendations to a more inclusive and supportive social protection to people with disability. Some of them are:

  • Development of national disability registry including support requirements assessment accessible to all;
  • Investment and develop community support services;
  • Targeting and criteria to focus on disability support and participation;
  • Expand pension to all persons with disabilities;
  • Accessibility of information;
  • The design, implementation and monitoring of social protection programmes to benefit from more engagement of people with disabilities.

The webinar finished with a lively and engaging Q&A, accessible here.

This blog post summarises the thirtieth session of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series was a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Australia Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations. Join the online community ''Social protection responses to COVID-19 [Task force]'' to learn more about the initiative.

This was also the first webinar of the Disability Inclusive Social Protection Series. The series is organised by Australia DFAT in partnership with the ILO-UNICEF inclusive social protection initiative supported by the UNPRPD COVID-19 joint program. 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disability
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Health
  • Poverty reduction
  • Kenya
  • Mauritius
  • Sierra Leone
  • South Africa
  • India
  • South Asia
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's