As we reach the double-digit, 10th update of the weekly review, 190 countries and territories have planned, introduced or adapted social protection measures in response to COVID-19. New entries include Cambodia, Cyprus, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Latvia, Lesotho, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Mozambique and Suriname. Social protection measures grew by 7%, or from 870 to 937. Social assistance programs account for 59.6% of global responses, or 559 measures. Among safety nets, cash transfer programs account for half of intervention by governments, with their 283 COVID-related measures representing one-third (30.2%) of total social protection programs.
The size of cash transfers is relatively generous, while their duration short. Current transfers account for an average 25% of monthly GDP per capita in respective countries. The highest increase, or 47%, is registered in low income countries (among regions, ECA had the highest rate of 27%). On average, transfers have more than doubled (+139%) compared to average pre-COVID transfer levels (where data is available for a subset of 17 countries). The duration of programs ranges from 1 to 6 months, for an average of 2.9 months. In some cases, programs are tied to the duration of the crisis. This is the case, for example, in Morocco and Tuvalu. Cash-based measures are over twice those of in-kind programs. About 57% of cash transfer measures (161 out of 283) are new programs in 104 countries, while one-fourth of measures (25.4%) are one-off payments. A significant number of new in-kind programs (91) has been also been introduced, accounting for 70% of total in-kind measures.
Social assistance has been adapted to COVID-19 response in three ways. This includes expanding coverage, increasing benefits, and making administrative requirements simpler and more user-friendly. Specifically, administrative adaptations are occurring in 42 countries. For example, anticipation of payments that due at later date (e.g., Malaysia); flexibility in the time of collection (e.g., Algeria); home delivery of cash for seniors (e.g., Armenia); postponement of recertification (e.g., Georgia); waiving of conditionalities (e.g., Philippines); and sharing of delivery systems across programs (e.g., Jordan). Increases in benefits among preexisting programs are implemented in 46 countries, including transfer value being increased (e.g., Egypt) and additional payment cycles (e.g., Chile). Coverage extension is underway in 159 countries: this includes expanding coverage of existing programs (22 cases) and 391 new social assistance programs (6 of which universal). Combined, those adaptations across administration, generosity and coverage in social assistance benefit over 1.7 billion individuals (i.e., 1,766,201,920). The same estimate applied only applied to cash transfers lead to an estimated 1.1 billion people benefiting from such adaptations (1,150,156,185). If we only consider coverage (horizontal expansion) of new and existing cash transfer schemes, these cover an estimated 914 million people (914,783,460).
Regions are scaling up cash transfers at different levels and pace. Asia is region with the highest absolute number of beneficiaries of cash transfers coverage, including EAP (first) and SAR (second). The lowest number is registered in Sub-Saharan Africa. In terms of share of the population covered, North America is the highest (22% of the population), while only 2% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s is covered by planned or actual cash transfers reported for Covid-19.
In terms of social insurance, there has been a remarkable uptick in measures recently – now including 254 measures in 124 countries. Among the most popular interventions, unemployment benefits include 77 measures, now higher (for the first time since we track measures) than social security contributions having been waived or subsidized (61 programs). These are followed by 55 paid sick leave measures in 47 countries.
The number of labor market interventions includes 126 measures in 79 countries. Wage subsidies continue to dominate those interventions, although they lost a few percentage points since last week. Activation measures and labor market regulation adjustments are present in 16 and 21 countries, respectively. Shorter-time work arrangements are adopted in 9 countries.
Trends and composition in regional measures vary. ECA has the highest upward trend, with LAC accelerating in recent weeks. Sub-Saharan Africa has been on a steady raise, with North America relatively flat. Social assistance accounts for 84% of Africa’s Covid-related response (and 73% in SAR), while the largest share of social insurance appears in North America (50%) and MENA (37%). At almost 20%, East Asia and ECA show the highest share of labor market programs globally. The region with the highest share of cash transfers out of its social assistance portfolio is North America (67%), while the same region, in tandem with SAR, has also the largest share of inkind transfers (33%).
Spending in social protection is over half-trillion globally. Countries are spending an average of $45 per capita in social protection COVID-19 response. Our estimates indicate a level slightly higher than half-trillion (541 billion) in US dollars. Importantly, not all countries report on cost figures, and some are planned volumes. The bulk of spending includes universal or quasi-universal cash transfer programs in countries like Japan and the United States. Social assistance spending equals $541.7 billion, $484 of which in HICs. For the moment, LIC are investing $247 million in social assistance, while MICs about $56 billion ($23 billion of which in India). Defined in these terms, the overall global volume of social protection response to COVID-19 is 0.6% of global GDP (nearly $85 trillion). In terms of per capita spending, this ranges from $1 in LICs to $99 in HICs, and from $5 in Africa and MENA to $297 in North America.
In terms of “how” countries are implementing social protection programs in response to Covid-19, this edition offers a special feature on emerging delivery practices in relation to cash transfer payments. This includes both global practices as well as country-level illustrations of how payments and digital cash transfers are being designed and implemented in 6 countries.
Download the full paper Country SP COVID responses_May22
p.s. global updates will resume in early June. Over the next two weeks, will review classifications and parameters, collect more data and information, and enrich the analysis with a view of offering you the most accurate, detailed, comprehensive, and real-time information possible.
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 socialprotection.org 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.