Written by Isabela Franciscon and Mengisto Opoku Akowuah, socialprotection.org.


Ghana recorded its first COVID-19 case on March 12, 2020, escalating to 7000 cases and over 30 deaths as of May 2020. Social distancing measures were established to contain the spread of the disease, including a lockdown in Greater Accra and Kumasi, the most populous cities in the country. About 77.4% of households in Ghana suffered income losses due to the lockdown restrictions, as reported by Ghana Statistical Service. A similar percentage of households struggled to purchase food due to increased food prices. Also, there were over 115,000 temporary and permanent closures of businesses and enterprises (UNICEF 2020; Aduhene and Osei-Assibey 2021; Ghana Statistical Service 2021).

Looking forward to cushioning the crisis' socio-economic impacts, the government of Ghana employed several social protection initiatives. According to the mapping conducted by International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) (2021), seven different social protection measures, belonging to six different types of instruments were adopted (see Table 1). The subsidies category refers to water and electricity subsidies (counted as one measure) and mobile money fee waivers – to enable citizens to increase the use of technology in daily transactions, avoiding human interaction (IPC-IG 2021).


Table 1: Social protection responses to COVID-19 by type of instrument 

Source: IPC-IG (2021). Note: A single measure can be classified under multiple instruments.


The unconditional cash transfer category concerns the expansion of the Ghanaian flagship cash transfer programme, the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) , while the emergency cash transfer was targeted to informal workers and smallholder farmers in selected regions.  The emergency in-kind transfer consisted of the distribution of food packs and cooked meals to vulnerable households and individuals, in the cities of Accra, Kumasi, Tema and Kasoa (IPC-IG 2021).

The public works-related measure refers to the adaptation of the Labour Intensive Public Works Programme. Since schools were closed, participants who were mothers or children’s caregivers had their working hours reduced while still receiving the full daily wages. Further, there were adjustments in the size of crews and crews’ rotation, the implementation of distancing measures, and the provision of masks and disinfection and hand-hygiene supplies. (IPC-IG 2021; Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021). This is particularly a good example of how in certain circumstances social protection programmes can be adapted at a low or without costs to better support its beneficiaries. 

Finally, on incentives to frontline/ health workers, the government provided additional allowances and tax benefits to all health workers from April to December and an allowance of 50 per cent of the minimum salary to all frontline workers (UNICEF 2021; Cooke et al. 2022; IPC-IG 2021; Osei-Boateng and Zjos Vlaminck 2021).

This mix of measures resulted in different groups being covered, as shown in Figure 1. Note though that this does not necessarily means that the interventions´ coverage (in terms of population share) was high, nor that all vulnerable groups were included. Below, some of the measures cited in this introduction are discussed in more depth, as well as other complementary interventions. 


Figure 1: Main target groups

Source: IPC-IG (2021).


Cash and in-kind transfers 

In May 2020, the Government vertically expanded LEAP – an additional one-off round of cash transfers and a top-up to beneficiaries – to cover transportation costs (incurred due to the closure of regular pay points) and personal protective items like sanitisers and face masks (UNICEF 2021; Dadzei and Raju 2020; The Transfer Project, n.d; IPC-IG 2021). Though LEAP is a flagship programme, the coverage of this initiative was relatively limited given that it covers only 58% of the country’s extremely poor population (Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021).

Following, supported by UNICEF and the World Bank, in the second half of 2020, the government initiated an extra cash transfer scheme, reaching circa 125,000 additional vulnerable individuals – e.g. persons living in alleged witch camps , head porters, homeless people, persons with disabilities and extremely poor households (per the classification of the Ghana National Household Registry). It stood out that these transfers were delivered using the existing social protection infrastructure, including human resources for targeting and verification, and LEAP´s management information and payment systems (UNICEF 2021).

Regarding in-kind interventions, the government provided food (cooked meals) to vulnerable people, feeding an estimated 470,000 families in Accra and Kumasi during the three-week lockdown. Due to data unavailability, targeting was done, among others, via non-governmental and faith-based organizations, District Assembles and orphanages. In addition, a 500-capacity hostel was secured to provide accommodation for some head porters known as kayayei . These groups sleep mostly in the open space and at the various lorry stations, and were stranded during the lockdown (Emmanuel 2020; Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021). 


Table 2: Identification of potential beneficiaries by type of mechanism 

Source: IPC-IG (2021). Note: Includes beneficiaries of horizontal expansions only (new or existing programmes), excluding subsidies. 


As suggested, one of the key challenges encountered was the absence of proper data on the potential beneficiaries – two of the measures mapped by IPC-IG relied on on-demand registration/enrolment campaigns to identify beneficiaries (Table 2).  According to Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck (2021), Ghana lacks a national database on household poverty and particularly insufficient data on the urban poor. The authors found that among the vulnerable groups they researched, most did not receive the in-kind transfer, thus resorting to savings or cutting down on meals to cope.



On payment of utilities (water and electricity), the government of Ghana provided free supply of water. This measure was initially announced for three months (April-June 2020) and, next, was extended to December 2020 (Aduhene and Osei-Assibey 2021). As only 10.6% of the Ghanaian population have access to pipe-bone water at home (2019),  for communities without it the government supplied water through tanker services. The initiative was limited, however, to a few poorer urban communities (Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021). 

In October 2020, the government announced an electricity relief package, which consisted of three months of free electricity for lifeline customers (those who consume 0 to 50 kilowatts per month) and a 50% subsidy for all other consumers (residential and commercial). Following, the measure was renewed until the end of 2020. As in the case of the water subsidy, the poor were generally not reached. Many poorer households live in compounds and pay for electricity via a landlord, and thus, they ended up not benefiting from the subsidy. Further, it should be considered that living in compounds artificially increases consumption above the lifeline level and that around 18% of Ghanaians do not have access to electricity (2018). In this way, over four months of the measure, circa 30% of the households reported never benefiting. (Berkouwer et al. 2022; Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021). 


Concluding remarks 

Though utility subsidies may be a quick manner to reach many citizens at a lower cost, they tend to be regressive, meaning that they disproportionally benefit those with higher income (and, thus, with access to water and electricity infrastructure and higher consumption rates). As discussed, the case of Ghana is not different. 

Therefore, it is recommended that the Government of Ghana focuses on strengthening its routine social protection system´s targeting mechanisms, in a way that it can be swiftly activated to identify those who need support (and what type of support) when a shock occurs (TRANSFORM 2020; UNICEF 2021). In order to achieve it, data on the poor must be kept updated and variables adapted to inform risk and vulnerability assessments (TRANSFORM 2020).  For ensuring inclusiveness, it is also important to decentralize the data collection process  and make sure to include those who are homeless or do not have a fixed home in the poverty databases. The Ghana National Household Registry already offers a good base to start (UNICEF 2021; Osei-Boateng and Vlaminck 2021)

Finally, it is recommended that the Ghana government seeks to expand its social assistance looking forward to covering all poor and vulnerable groups, so they are more resilient to shocks. As indicated above, the LEAP´s programme infrastructure has proven to be a solid foundation for expansion. 




This post is part of the ‘COVID-19 Social Protection response series’, a 12-piece blog series featuring discussions based on data and evidence from the interactive dashboard ‘Social protection responses to COVID-19 in the Global South’, developed by the former International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) in partnership with SPACE and sponsored by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and UNDP Brazil. The dashboard illustrates part of the data compiled in the COVID-19 tracking matrix and provides detailed insights into countries’ social protection responses to the crisis, working as a repository of experiences and government practices in shock-responsive social protection taking place in developing countries worldwide. Its indicators are divided into seven thematic sections: overview of responses, type of adaptation, timeliness, identification of beneficiaries and application tools; delivery mechanisms; coverage; and adequacy of benefits. This blog series is supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) of Australia.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
    • Subsidies
      • Price subsidies
        • Fuel, water, and electricity subsidies
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Public works programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme design
    • Targeting
  • Programme implementation
    • Enrolment / registration
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Health
    • COVID-19
  • Ghana
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