The 14th edition of the global social protection response “living paper” is out! Enjoy the v.14 of the global response report inclusive of summary trends and country-level briefs as well as the accompanying Excel database. As always, the report is an ongoing effort and comments are welcome.

Here are the report’s highlights preceded by a key headline number!


Social assistance, insurance and active labor market programs in response to Covid-19 continue to rise. As of December 11, a total of 215 countries or territories have announced plans or implemented 1,414 social protection measures. Such level represents a 20% increase since the latest update on September 18. Social assistance still accounts for most, or 62%, of global responses, with cash transfers emerging as the most widely used form of social assistance recorded in our database.



The composition of social protection varies by county income groups and regions. Social assistance represents nearly 90% of measures in low income countries, while its less than half in high income settings; conversely, the presence of social insurance is clearly aligned with income, i.e., ranging from 8% in low- to 31% in high-income countries. Similarly, active labor market programs vary between 3 and 21% across the income spectrum. While responses in Sub-Saharan Africa mostly revolve around social assistance or safety nets (86%), these claim large shares also in South Asia (75%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (70%). Europe and Central Asia is the region with the largest share of active labor market programs (20%), while North America leads on social insurance (38%).



Breaking down the broad components, since September there are 146 new social assistance measures. Cash transfers now include 429 programs in 164 countries, a program growth of 26% over the past 3 months. Separately classified are 29 social pension schemes in 24 countries, as well as 22 cash-for-work programs in 15 countries. If all of these are conflated as a single category, cash-based transfers would represent 34% of global responses. In-kind food assistance also plays a major role with 177 programs and 30 school feeding schemes om 101 and 23 countries, respectively. Exemptions, deferrals and waivers for utility payments and financial obligations (e.g., rents) are also popular measures, including 183 programs in 105 countries.



Moving to social insurance, our database includes an additional 60 measures since September, now reaching the sizable number of 346 schemes in 136 countries. Most of those interventions take the form of unemployment benefits (103 schemes), followed by paid sick leave (85) and the subsidization of social security contributions (77). Pensions and support for healthcare insurance also feature prominently with 57 and 24 measures, respectively.



Active labor market programs have also grown remarkably over the past 3 months, including moving from 169 schemes in September to currently 198 schemes in 107 countries. Wage subsidies are now featuring in 122 cases across 93 countries. Other measures like 29 trainings, 34 episodes of adjustments to labor market regulations, and 13 cases of reduced work time complement the package of global labor market responses.



Going back to the most widely adopted measures, or cash transfer programs, their duration continues to be short-term, including being provided for an average of 3.3 months. Out of the 429 cash programs recorded, only 32 were extended for an additional period of time (i.e., for 2.8 months on average).



Social protection programs have been adapted in three different ways. In terms of benefit increases, or vertical expansions, a total of 42 existing cash transfer schemes in 33 countries have augmented the generosity of existing programs. Those statistics grow to 52 and 39, respectively, in the case of social assistance overall (including non-cash transfers measures). In terms of horizontal expansion, 12 programs in 10 countries scaled up their existing cash transfers (and 28 schemes in 21 countries in the case of social assistance in general). New schemes include 124 one-off targeted payments, 6 one-off universal transfers, one universal transfer with multiple payments, and 141 targeted programs providing multiple payments. Importantly, 25 countries have expanded 35 cash transfers both horizontally and vertically; 31 schemes in 24 countries have done neither, but still benefitted from administrative simplifications or advancements of payments due in later periods.



If we only consider cash transfers, these reached a planned level of 1.55 billion people, 1.1 of which are actually reached (or 14% of the global population). When taking into account all social assistance, horizontal coverage would include a planned level of 1.82 billion people. Out of these, the estimated actual beneficiaries, or those effectively reached as of December 11, are 1.28 billion people or 16% of the world’s population.



Which countries show highest coverage? We set out the top-10 countries by coverage rates (% of population) and numbers (million people). With regards to the former, top 6 countries include those that opted for a universal cash transfer (the seventh, Guyana, is planned), followed by large-scale programs in the Philippines, Dominican Republic, United States and Pakistan. In terms of million people, the United States one-off transfer of $1,200 benefited 156 million people, followed by Japan’s universal program (117 million) and Pakistan’s Ehsaas scheme (95 million). Brazil, China, Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar and Russia also present significant coverage, including between 68 and 23 million people.



How large or generous are the transfers provided? On average, cash transfers represent 32% of monthly GDP percapita, a level that varies between 26% in upper middle-income countries to 86% in low income settings. For 23 countries it was possible to estimate the relative increase in transfer generosity relative to pre-Covid levels. Results show that on average, cash transfer benefits nearly doubled or soared by 95%. Such increases range from 400% in Mongolia to 18% in Moldova. Based on pre-Covid household survey data, it was possible to also undertake an analysis of coverage increase since the pandemic. Excluding 13 cases with four-digit coverage rate increases (i.e., due to countries’ very low coverage levels to start with), the average increase in coverage was about 240%.



How are programs progressing in implementation? We have identified 353 social assistance programs for which data on implementation status is provided. Out of such sample, 206 programs are ongoing, while 134 were concluded and 13 are planned. For cash transfers, information is available at more granular program level for the majority of schemes. Out of the 136 ongoing programs, figure x lays out progress in coverage (or “actual” values) against planned coverage levels for 82 programs. In general, implementation progress is encouraging, with an average difference between actual and planned values of only 2.3 percentage points. A similar verification in implementation progress was possible for the vertical expansion among 23 programs. With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago’s food assistance scheme, implementation has been impressive with actual and planned values closely matching throughout the sample.



What can explain such positive implementation performance across vertical and horizontal scale up? As discussed in multiple past editions of this global paper, there is a range of delivery practices that are enhancing implementation. Among these, it appears that countries with pre-existing delivery capabilities are better able to scale-up. In fact, based on 24 countries with available data for both registries and Covid-related cash coverage, the reach of preexisting social registries is correlated (R2=0.37) with coverage increases in cash transfers. A similar relationship emerges for the JAM index.



How much are countries spending on social protection Covid-19 responses? Based on data from 126 countries, a total of $800.6 billion has been hitherto invested in such response. Such volume represents about 6.3% of the estimated $12.6 trillion in global stimulus packages. In comparative terms, spending on social protection is 22.6% higher than the $653 billion investment occurred over the great recession in 2008–09.



Clearly, spending across regions and country income groups varies significantly. For instance, social assistance spending ranges from $1.7 billion in low-income countries to $515.3 billion in high income settings, and from $6.1 billion in Africa to $290 in North America. Among the 17 low income countries for which data was available, no particular spending is registered for social insurance and active labor market programs. Those difference across contexts are also reflected on per-capita spending, which varies from $6 in low income countries to $525 in high income ones.



How are countries financing current scale up efforts? Based on a recent note produced by the OECD, UNICEF and World Bank, we gathered information for 31 countries and 70 data points, we divided sources into domestic and international, each including a select number of sub-categories. The most prevalent domestic modality was restructuring or re-prioritizing budget lines in 15 countries; 14 countries incurred in domestic debt and deficit spending; while 7 tapped state reserves, contingent funds and fiscal savings. These strategies were not mutually exclusive and 48% of countries pursued mixed-source financing. In general, 32% of countries tapped domestic sources as the only source of financing and 19% relied on external resources only.



The level of domestic financing varies remarkably across the country income spectrum. Those shares increase from nearly zero in LICs, to 37% in LMICs, and to 47% in UMICs (and 100% in HICs). However, in some cases, the injection of external financing has been limited and most spending would come from domestic sources (e.g., Pakistan). There are several innovations in middle income settings (e.g., Mauritania, Uzbekistan). In high-income contexts, there are different ways financing universal cash transfers, e.g., Singapore, a one-off cash transfer of $1.1 billion was financed from reserves and contingent budgets; Hong Kong spent $9.16 billion for cash payouts, all via deficit spending; in Serbia, the universal cash benefit cost $712 million, which was part of the 3.9 billion stimulus package (half of that was financed by a Eurobond valued at €2 billion, re-prioritized existing budget, and currency reserves). Social protection spending can come at the expense of other social services (e.g., Ukraine), while tapping reserves and re-prioritizing spending is a frequently adopted strategy (e.g., South Africa, Indonesia and the Philippines).


Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.

To sign up to the newsletter or share materials, you can contact Ugo by email ([email protected]), Twitter (@ugentilini) or LinkedIn.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
  • Social insurance
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
    • Expenditure and financing
  • Programme implementation
  • Programme design
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's