Enjoy the updated 422-page living paper on country social protection COVID responses (May 8)!
As of May 8, 2020, a total of 171 countries (12 more since last week) have planned, introduced or adapted social protection measures in response to COVID-19. This week’s new countries and territories include Caribbean Netherlands, Cuba, Curacao, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gabon, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Malta, Moldova, Slovakia and Zambia.
There is a total of 801 social protection measures recorded. Social assistance transfers keep remaining the most widely used class of interventions (60.7% of global responses, or 487 measures). These are complemented by significant action in social insurance and labor market-related measures (supply-side measures). Among safety nets, cash transfer programs remain the most widely used safety net intervention by governments. Overall, cash transfers include 246 COVID-related measures representing one-third (30.7%) of total social protection programs. There is a slight erosion of their prominence in social assistance, including a decline from 54 to 51% since last week.
Cash transfers include a mix of both new and pre-existing programs of various duration and generosity. About 60% of cash transfer measures (129 out of 215) are new programs in 88 countries, while one-fourth of measures (26%) are one-off payments. The average duration of transfers is 3.05 months (figure 3). The size of transfers is relatively generous, or 25% of monthly GDP per capita in respective countries. On average, transfers almost doubled, or increased by 91% compared to average pre-COVID transfer levels (where data is available for a subset of 14 countries).
Social assistance is being adapted to COVID-19 response in three ways. This includes expanding coverage, increasing benefits, and making administrative requirements simpler and more user-friendly. Combined, those adaptations across administration, generosity and coverage in cash transfers benefit over 1.04 billion people. If we only consider coverage (horizontal expansion) of new and existing cash transfer schemes, these cover an estimated 577.2 million people. If we extend those adaptations to social assistance, programs benefit over 1.46 billion people (individuals).
In terms of social insurance, there are now 215 measures in place. Countries like Egypt have recently approved general increases, while several others have introduced selective top-ups in favor of the lower income pensioners (such as the cases of Serbia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka and Tunisia). Other countries, like Costa Rica, Colombia, Kosovo and Mexico, have decided to anticipate pension payments. Social security contributions have bene waived or subsidized in 49 programs – a level equal to paid sick leave measures. Unemployment benefits are present in 61 cases.
The number of labor market interventions is almost triple digit. Wage subsidies continue to dominate those interventions (58 measures). As discussed in the previous edition, there is considerable diversity in generosity and accompanying conditions. Together with wage subsidies, 15 countries are strengthening their active labor market programs, particularly intermediation services and skills training. This is the case, for example, in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
There is progress across all regions and country income groups. Sub-Saharan Africa now includes a sizable set of 89 social assistance measures, 8 more than last week: in-kind and cash-based transfers have a similar share (30% and 29%, respectively) now exceed in-kind transfers (27%), with utility and financial obligation waivers (37%) being the leading interventions. Public works are only present in 3 countries in the region. Overall, upper middle-income countries continue to be the epicenter of action across all social protection components, except for labor markets (figure 8).
Countries are spending an average of $44 per capita in social protection COVID-19 response. Our preliminary estimates indicate a level slightly higher than half-trillion (567 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 $516 billion, $488 of which in HICs. For the moment, LIC are investing $247 million in social assistance, while MICs about $50 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, countries are providing an average of $44, ranging from $1 in LICs to $99 in HICs.
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.