As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, its implications for Asia and the Pacific have been particularly hard. Social protection systems play a critical role in mitigating risks and supporting vulnerable groups through these unprecedented times. COVID-19 has exposed gaps and challenges in the social protection landscape across countries and imposed an opportunity for policy makers to re-evaluate investments and strategies.

This was the context considered for the webinar “The role of social protection during COVID-19 crisis and recovery in Asia and the Pacific” held on February 1st, 2022. The session was organised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) with support from It was also the fourth webinar on the Asia-Pacific Social Protection Webinar series, a series developed in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Social Protection Online Community at

For this webinar, speakers presented the results of two studies published by ADB on social protection interventions and initiatives during the COVID-19 crisis and recovery.  ADB consultants Anand Ramesh Kumar and Arthur van de Meerendonk, presented their recently-published working paper on  “COVID-19 and Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific: Projected Costs for 2020–2030”.

The working paper introduces the Social Protection Reform Simulation Model (SPRS20), a social protection costing tool developed to estimate the additional costs associated with delivering adequate social protection coverage through the crisis period and the transition to recovery. It also allows users to estimate the costs of delivering a customizable social protection floor, while factoring for the economic and social recovery anticipated from the COVID-19 crisis, leading up to the targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The model can be used to assist policy makers in weighing policy options and supporting informed decision making for social protection programming in their countries.

Mr. Kumar explained how the model is customizable, with a wide range of programmes that can be included in a country’s social protection package from social insurance, social assistance, or labour market programmes. It also allows users to select the level of benefits, benefit adjustment mechanisms, benefit durations and other parameters, and produces results which can be disaggregated by gender, poverty status, etc. The scope of the current costing exercise allows three phases, which are, firstly, the 2020 emergency phase, secondly the transition/recovery phase (2021-2023), and then the third phase, in which the model allows to simulate the build up to social protection floors (up to 2030), which can be tailored to the needs of each country.

Among other results and outcomes, by using the SPRS20 model, the working paper shows that the additional costs (in % of the GDP) in the emergency phase and the end of recovery phase are estimated to be higher for lower middle income (2.91%) and low-income countries (7.91%) than for upper middle-income countries (2.82%). Further, the working paper estimates that the social protection floors package (customized for the exercise) will cost approximately 5.9% on average in Asia and the Pacific by the end of the projection period in 2030. Again, the model estimates that low-income countries will face the highest costs, at around 12.3%, while in upper middle-income countries it stands at 5.6%.

Conclusions from this study highlighted that the added demand induced by COVID-19 can substantially increase debt burden on countries with limited social protection resources, and that options to increase fiscal space availability including improving tax system efficiency, re-prioritizing public expenditures etc. should be explored in depth in the national context. It also emphasized that planning should be supported by evidence based research evaluating national policy frameworks, administrative mechanisms, delivery systems, etc. The study can be accessed here.

Selsah Pasali, Social Affairs Officer, UNESCAP, who participated as a discussant in the session introduced UNESCAP’s Social Protection Simulator, which is a static micro simulation model based on linear proximation. It estimates the impact of introducing social protection programs on  poverty and inequality and computes the relative cost of simulated programs, while allowing users to factor for different parameters including eligibility, coverage  etc,. More information about the simulator can be found here.

Sameer Khatiwada, Social Sector Specialist (ICT), Southeast Asia Department, ADB, presented the second ADB study: “A Crisis Like No Other: COVID-19 and Labor Markets in Southeast Asia”. This research tried to answer questions such as how did labour markets in Southeast Asia adjust to the COVID-19 shock? And who has been hurt the most? Additionally, what policies have mitigated the impact on jobs and incomes?

The data for the study came from the Labor Force Survey (LFS) microdata obtained from  Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam. Alternative and supplementary resources, such as the ADBI household surveys were also used. The study also compiled social protection and policy responses data from various sources including the ILO’s Social Protection report 2017-019, World Bank’s Atlas of Social Protection, and the IPC-IG ‘Social Protection Responses to COVID-19 in the Global South’ data base.

According to the study, job losses peaked in the second quarter of 2020, with significant declines for all age and sex cohorts. There were significantly more exits from labour force following job loss among women, raising risks of lasting disruptions to their working lives. The burden of care usually tends to fall on women, and that is represented by the numbers in Thailand and Viet Nam, especially on the younger cohort. For an in depth look at this study, access the publication here.

Christian Viegelahn, Senior Economist, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, also contributed to this discussion, introducing other resources and useful material from the ILO, such as the World Employment and Social Outlook Trends 2022 and the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Findings from these publications include estimates of working hour losses, accounting to almost 8% in South-East Asia in 2020, and expected to continue to have high numbers in 2022 (estimated at almost 3,3% in 2022).

The full recording of the webinar is available here and the slide presentation here.


This is the fourth webinar of the Asia-Pacific Social Protection Series, which is organised by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Become a member of the Online Community to receive news, publications, and relevant content about social protection in the region.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes/Productive inclusion
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
  • Social insurance
Social Protection Approaches: 
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Labour market / employment
    • Unemployment
    • Informality
  • Emergency response and Disaster Risk Management
  • Health
    • COVID-19
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam
The views presented here are the author's and not's