Where are the social protection responses to COVID-19 now?
Written by Marina Andrade and Tomás Borges, socialprotection.org
Since 2020, governments of countries in the Global South have implemented several different social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, aiming to support the hardest-hit and most vulnerable groups. Three years later, the importance of these social protection measures in protecting people’s livelihoods and their positive implications for the development of national social protection systems and their adaptative capacities seems to have been far-reaching. That said, we can't help but wonder, where are these social protection responses now, and what are some of the innovations, adaptations or developments they encompassed and left behind? Are there any at all?
The summarized findings of the IPC-IG and partners ‘Social Protection Responses to COVID-19 in the Global South’ Online Dashboard below can provide some quick insights on these questions. Further, the blog analyses 3 countries and their SP responses to the pandemic, looking at aspects of their implementation since 2020 and highlighting relevant ‘impacts’ of their adoption for national SP systems.
Summary of findings from the social protection responses to COVID-19 in the Global South
1. Take-up of social protection responses across the Global South
More than a thousand social protection emergency responses were adopted by developing countries to help tackle COVID-19 impacts since 2020, as mapped by the IPC-IG and partners; out of those, over half were non-contributory programs.
2. Target groups
Around one-third of the social protection responses were targeted at formal workers, while poor and vulnerable households, and vulnerable individuals each accounted for 20% of the groups targeted in the responses.
3. Main types of assistance and support
Social protection responses to COVID-19 have taken various forms. Cash and in-kind transfers, and liquidity alleviation measures, including subsidies, have been the most common types of response mapped.
4. Financing sources
Central governments played a crucial role in supporting the most affected, as 74% of the mapped responses were financed by states’ own budgets. Meanwhile, 14% of the responses were financed by external sources and only 12% by the private sector or social security funds.
5. Type of adaptation
Around half of the social protection responses to COVID-19 (excluding subsidies) consisted in coverage expansions only. Out of these, around 80% were new interventions as opposed to increases in coverage of pre-existing programmes. Adaptations in social protection programmes other than coverage or vertical expansions, consisted in flexibilization of payment duties, e.g. deferral payment of social security contributions or rent, and adaptations in delivery modalities of existing programmes.
Some countries responded relatively quickly to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Examples of swift responses include Lesotho and Indonesia, where social protection responses were implemented even before the first COVID-19 cases were officially reported in those countries. Similarly, Brazil and Venezuela adapted their national cash-transfer programs almost immediately after the 1st official COVID-19 cases of the respective countries.
7. Identification and application instruments
Governments had to act quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to identify individuals and families in need of assistance who were not yet already covered by social protection. The most common identification mechanisms used were ‘open registration campaigns’ and existing ‘social security, employee records or tax databases’. Regarding enrolment mechanisms, ‘web or email registration’ were predominant, followed by programs with no application needed, as some governments tapped into information of existing registries to enrol new beneficiaries in the social protection responses.
8. Delivery mechanisms
For the cash-based measures mapped, bank transfer was the most common payment/delivery mechanism, followed by mobile money transfers and manual cash payments.
Numerous countries have expanded coverage of social assistance, social insurance and labour market programs. In small countries, such as Timor-Leste and El Salvador, and in small island developing states, like Tuvalu, the coverage of social assistance responses was universal.
Countries were faced with the need to provide adequate social protection support during the crisis, in addition to reaching more people. Countries like Chile, Brazil, Pakistan, Senegal and Malaysia provided a level of social assistance benefits that protected households against poverty for relatively longer periods, as compared with the same types of benefits of other countries’ responses. For social insurance and labour market responses, countries like Argentina, Bangladesh, India, Kuwait and Mauritania provided benefits at or above the level of average wages in the respective countries.
Social protection post-COVID-19 responses: How does it look for some countries across the Global South?
In Morocco, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the government to expand social protection programmes, particularly the National Medical Assistance Program (RAMED), to support vulnerable households, and establish new measures, like the emergency cash transfer for informal workers.
Created in 2008, RAMED is a non-contributory health insurance programme targeted at poor and vulnerable families, who are not entitled to the Mandatory Health Insurance (AMO), a contributory scheme for workers in formal employment, and other beneficiaries. The main goal of RAMED is to provide free health care and services available in public hospitals and other health institutions . The scheme underwent one of the largest expansions in terms of coverage among all social protection responses to COVID-19 in the MENA region (Bilo et al., 2022). With the increasing number of individuals falling into the informal sector or losing their jobs during the pandemic, 17 million individuals were covered by the program in 2021 (Zerrour, 2021). Some factors were crucial to increase speed of the response, such as the creation of an online platform for the registration of new beneficiaries (Burattini et al., 2022).
The programme was also used as basis to identify the most vulnerable households during the crisis (World Bank et al., 2021). Using data from RAMED, the government was able to deliver one of the timeliest emergency cash transfer responses for informal workers in the region. In less than four months, it reached 5 million households, which represented 91 per cent of the announced target group (Bilo et al., 2022). Beneficiaries in the RAMED database who applied and those self-registering through the new online platform received the CT. The new applicants who were also found eligible for RAMED but had not yet been registered became registered in the regular programme. Therefore, the emergency response led to a permanent extension of the health assistance programme in Morocco that stands to this day.
Furthermore, the crisis has reinforced the need for harmonization between different social protection programmes in Morocco. At the end of 2022, the Moroccan government approved a project to include all RAMED beneficiaries in the Mandatory Health Insurance mechanism (AMO). Beneficiaries from both programmes will have access to the same benefits and payment delivery mechanisms from 2023 on . The programme will remain non-contributory for RAMED beneficiaries, as the government will be subsidizing their monthly contributions.
This move is also a significant step for the new targeting system of the Moroccan unified registry system (Registre Social Unifié - RSU). While it was already being set up in 2020, the need to have data on social protection beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries propelled this mechanism to the centre of the discussions. Hence, the law that established the RSU was enacted, and in his 2020 Royal Speech, King Mohammed VI put the development of the RSU in 2021 as one of His priorities.
Rao Mai Ting Kan (‘No one left behind’) programme
The majority of workers in Thailand is in the informal economy and most of them were not entitled to unemployment benefits by the time the COVID-19 State of Emergency was declared and strict movement restrictions were imposed. To help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thai government launched a few new interventions to expand coverage of the social protection system during the emergency, as well as put in place adaptations of existing non-contributory schemes. One of the central components of the policy response, implemented early on, was the Rao Mai Ting Kan, a temporary wage subsidy scheme targeted at informal workers uninsured under the Social Security Fund (SSF), as well as farmers, fishers and herders. The scheme reached almost 50 per cent of the labour force, or almost 20 million workers, with a 3-month wage subsidy of THB 5000 per month, paid from May 2020.
While farmers, fishers and herders that received the subsidy were already registered in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, and received benefits via the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (ADB 2021), informal workers had yet to be registered when the pandemic hit. The Thai Government, through its Ministry of Finance, launched the Program on the 25th of March, 2020, and by the 28th of March, 8.5 million individuals had already submitted their online applications via the Pao Tang mobile app, which also functioned as a payment delivery tool for the programme (Nygaard and Dreyer 2020). Workers could also apply in-person at branches of state-owned banks, which allowed access to the scheme for persons without internet access or mobile phones. Overall, more than 28 million persons applied, and 15.3 million were found eligible to receive the assistance after their information was validated and eligibility checked across government registries. With the programme, use of digital tools in social protection delivery in Thailand increased considerably compared to before the crisis (ESCAP 2021; Amphunan, Zhang and Banu 2022).
Vertical expansions of non-contributory schemes and Rao Chana (coverage expansion)
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, existing non-contributory schemes, namely, the State Welfare Card (SWC) program, the Old-Age Allowance, the Persons with Disabilities (PwD) Allowance (both social pensions), and the Child Support Grant (an unconditional cash transfer) underwent temporary vertical expansions to provide emergency support to beneficiaries not yet covered by other COVID-19 relief schemes in Thailand. The adaptations involved monthly top-ups of THB 1000 of regular benefits for three months, from April to June, 2020 (except for the PwD Allowance, which lasted for another 9 months) and covered roughly 8 million direct beneficiaries of the four programmes. From October to December 2020, all SWC holders (around 14 million persons), including those who had participated in other COVID-19 relief schemes, were considered eligible for another round of top-ups, but with lower monthly transfers of THB 500 (World Bank 2021b).
The SWC is a cash-transfer programme targeted at poor and near-poor households in Thailand, with 70 per cent of beneficiaries being residents of rural areas. Programme benefits are delivered electronically via the SWC, which can be used at specific stores in the country that sell basic food and household items, in public transportation, or to pay for utilities, i.e., electricity, water and gas (ibid.).
From January 2021, the Thai Government launched the Rao Chana (‘We win’) scheme, which aimed to cover SWC holders but also involved an open registration campaign to accept applications from other vulnerable persons affected by the crisis who were not yet covered by the SWC, including informal workers. It was a new cash-transfer programme targeted at poor and vulnerable persons, self-employed workers and farmers, with monthly THB 7000 benefits delivered for 2 months (February and March), and later extended for another month (April). It covered a total of 33.2 million people in total (World Bank Group 2021) or over 80 per cent of the population (ADB 2021).
With implementation of the new programmes, mainly the 2020 wage subsidy scheme and the 2021 cash transfer, with a combined cost of over 2 per cent of GDP, the Thai Government was able to establish emergency social protection policy tools to put in place one of largest emergency coverage expansions in the Global South (World Bank Group 2021). At the same time, by 2021, coverage of informal workers by the SSF voluntary scheme increased more than three-fold compared to before the pandemic, from around 3 million workers to over 10.5 million covered (Thai PBS 2022). The sudden increase in take-up of social insurance by informal workers could potentially be an indication that they may have become more aware of the government social insurance scheme as they benefited from the tax-financed emergency responses.
In Togo, a mix of digital technologies was used in the government social protection responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in implementation of the Novissi programme. Created in April 2020, it is an emergency cash transfer programme targeted at informal workers. With support from the World Bank, private donors, and US-based universities, the CT used artificial intelligence to track new beneficiaries who were typically excluded from the national registries (World Bank, 2021). Using mobile phone and satellite data, they could predict the consumption levels of several individuals and identify the 200 poorest rural cantons in the country that should be prioritized by the program (Burattini et al., 2022).
Following the pandemic, Novissi’s innovations are being built upon to strengthen social assistance programs in the country. While the program faced challenges during the pandemic regarding fraud and scaling up due to high costs (D+C, 2023), it has provided a solid basis for the use of digital technology in delivery of social protection programmes in Togo, including emergency ones. Novissi was extended and relaunched in different phases during the COVID-19. Nowadays, the know-how, experience and general infrastructure to implement similar initiatives can be harnessed to develop further the national SP system. The success of Novissi's targeting strategy has even inspired a similar COVID-19 relief program in the Democratic Republic of Congo (CEGA, 2021), indicating the potential for Novissi to have a far-reaching impact beyond Togo's borders.
- Amphunan, Kanpunnarin, Kevin Zhang and Fanzura Banu. 2022. Booster Shot? Pao Tang Digital Payment and Thailand’s Domestic Consumption. Fulcrum: Analysis on Southeast Asia. https://fulcrum.sg/booster-shot-pao-tang-digital-payment-and-thailands-domestic-consumption/. Accessed 28 March 2023.
- Biometric Update (2022). ID Day boost, SDG warning and dynamic new identity and inclusion models for Togo. <https://www.biometricupdate.com/202210/id-day-boost-sdg-warning-and-dynamic-new-identity-and-inclusion-models-for-togo>. Accessed 22 March 2023.
- Bilo, C., L. Sato and J.P. Dytz (2022). “Social protection responses to COVID-19 in MENA: Design, implementation and child-sensitivity” Research Report No. 76. Brasília and Amman: International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth and United Nations Children’s Fund Middle East and North Africa Regional Office.
- Burattini, B., G. Perin, K. Alvarenga, and V. L. Valiyaparambil (2022). “Digital innovations in delivering social protection in rural areas: Lessons for public provisioning during the post-pandemic recovery and beyond”. Research Report, No. 85. Rome and Brasília: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth.
- CEGA (2022). Research and technology that underpinned Togo’s Novissi cash transfer program – based in part on research led by faculty co-Director Josh Blumenstock and funded by CEGA – informed a new strategy for targeting aid in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. <https://cega.berkeley.edu/impact/digital-aid-scales-to-drc/>. Accessed 22 March 2023.
- D+C (2023). Togo’s temporary basic income by text message. <https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/innovative-social-protection-scheme-small-west-african-country-during-covid-19-pandemic>. Accessed 22 March 2023.
- ESCAP. 2021. Facilitating COVID responses: Rao Mai Ting Gun (No One Left Behind) scheme. Social Protection Toolbox. https://www.socialprotection-toolbox.org/practice/facilitating-covid-responses-rao-mai-ting-gun-no-one-left-behind-scheme. Accessed 28 March 2023.
- IPC-IG (2021). “Social Protection Responses to COVID-19 on the Global South.” International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth online dashboard. <https://socialprotection.org/social-protection-responses-covid-19-global-south>. Accessed 24 March 2023.
- Thai PBS. 2022. Social security for informal sector labour a pressing national priority. https://www.thaipbsworld.com/social-security-for-informal-sector-labour-a-pressing-national-priority/. Accessed 28 March 2023.
- World Bank (2021a). Prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable in West Africa: Togo’s Novissi platform for social protection uses machine learning, geospatial analytics, and mobile phone metadata for the pandemic response. Results Briefs. <https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2021/04/13/prioritizing-the-poorest-and-most-vulnerable-in-west-africa-togo-s-novissi-platform-for-social-protection-uses-machine-l>. Accessed 22 March 2023.
- World Bank. 2021b. Towards Social Protection 4.0 : An Assessment of Thailand’s Social Protection and Labor Market Systems. World Bank, Bangkok. http://openknowledge.worldbank.org/entities/publication/aff6782c-eed7-542a-ba72-5329b5c5a90a. Accessed 28 March 2023.
- World Bank Group. 2021. Thailand Economic Monitor: The Road to Recovery. Bangkok: World Bank. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/260291626180534793/pdf/Thailand-Economic-Monitor-The-Road-to-Recovery.pdf. Accessed 28 March 2023.
- World Bank, United Nations Maroc, and the Government of Morocco (2021). Strategic Note Summary of The Social and Economic Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis in Morocco. <https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/852971598449488981-0280022020/original/ENGTheSocialandEconomicImpactoftheCovid19CrisisinMorocco.pdf>. Accessed 24 March 2023.
- Zerrour, Layla. Ramed : Plus de 17,41 millions de bénéficiaires au 17 septembre 2021. Aujourd’hui Le Maroc. <https://aujourdhui.ma/societe/ramed-plus-de-1741-millions-de-beneficiaires-au-17-septembre-2021>. Accessed 24 March 2023.
 See more: <https://socialprotection.org/discover/programmes/r%C3%A9gime-d%E2%80%99assistance-m%C3%A9dicale-ramed>. Accessed 22 March 2023.
 See more: <https://www.maroc.ma/fr/actualites/m-baitas-les-anciens-beneficiaires-du-ramed-nayant-pas-encore-recu-leurs-numeros>.. Accessed 24 March 2023.
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.