This blog summarises the exchanges and important messages raised by the expert panel at the webinar “Lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis: moving towards inclusive social protection for persons with disabilities?”, held on 8 July 2021 and organised by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD), the International Disability Alliance (IDA), and the Australia Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This webinar is the fourth of the Disability Inclusive Social Protection Series.

This webinar sought to provide the participants with an overview of social protection response trends for persons with disabilities and possible takeaways about the preparedness of social protection systems. It also aimed to present a summary of initiatives that may increase the supportiveness of social protection systems to persons with disabilities.  

The session was moderated by Felicity O Brien, from DFAT, and featured contributions by Charles Knox-Vydmanov, from the ILO-UNICEF-UNPRPD project, Amba Salelkar from IDA, Alexander Cote from UNICEF, and Quynh Anh Nguyen, from ILO.

Feel free to access the presentation slides  and watch the  webinar’s recording


Readiness and response of social protection systems to support persons with disabilities

Charles Knox-Vydmanov started the session with a presentation based on the main takeaways of a synthesis paper undertaken under the UNPRPD joint programme on disability-inclusive response and recovery planning for COVID-19. His talk was also based on a longer-term project previous to the coronavirus pandemic that evaluates the interplay between social protection and disability in Low and Middle-Income countries. Know-Vydmanov sought to explain the readiness of social protection systems for persons with disabilities, the impacts of COVID-19 in persons with disabilities and their families, and the measures undertaken to support this group during the crisis.

According to the speaker, social protection systems play a relevant role for persons with disabilities by addressing income insecurity and additional disability-related costs (healthcare, assistive devices, etc.). He also stresses that the effectiveness of social protection for this group demands a multi-layered set of policies across their life cycle. Several schemes can deal with this issue, with disability allowances being the most common.

It is important to emphasise, however, that the coverage of these disability benefits is low. According to the presentation, less than 18% of people with severe disabilities in low and middle-income countries were beneficiaries of disability schemes before the COVID-19 crisis. Even in countries where disability schemes are part of social protection systems, limitations to these programmes are common, especially related to targeting, inaccessibility, and health care.

After these considerations, Knox-Vydmanov discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities. This social group was afflicted by rising costs associated with health, transportation, and food. Nevertheless, the main consequences of the pandemic were felt in the sector of employment and earnings since persons with disabilities are more prone to have informal jobs.

The countries’ responses to the challenges posed by the pandemic were varied, but the presenter mentioned some trends. By analysing measures taken by 98 countries that specifically target persons with disabilities, he concluded that the vertical expansion of cash benefits (represented by temporary top-ups) was the principal strategy to address COVID-19 impacts. Still, he stresses that these top-ups, in many cases, were not sufficient to cover for the weakness of pre-existing benefits. Knox-Vydmanov also discussed the horizontal expansion of disability schemes, which aims to increase the coverage of the existing programmes. In the analysed cases, the horizontal expansion put in place by some countries did not expand the number of beneficiaries of the programmes.

Finally, he discussed the expansion of non-specific disability programmes as a response to the impacts of COVID-19 on persons with disabilities. This measure, however, has limitations, as previously presented. Based on his study, the speaker mentions three pathways of expansion.

First, he talked about cases where governments have decided to expand life-cycle schemes, such as old-age pensions and child benefits, in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In some cases, such programmes have an importance that predates the pandemic. For instance, in South Africa, 65% of persons with disabilities were receiving at least one social grant before COVID-19 hit. Second, he deliberates on the examples of social assistance benefits, which aim to reduce poverty. In these cases, the expansion relies heavily on governmental registries, which are often inaccessible to persons with disabilities. Last, he mentions the importance of schemes that target informal workers as this sector is highly relevant for the employment of persons with disabilities.

In conclusion, the speaker presents the following remarks:

  • Countries with existing disability benefits are better positioned to provide support for persons with disabilities;
  • The adequacy of disability benefits was a major issue before and during the crisis;
  • The generally low coverage of pre-existing disability benefits limited the reach of the social protection responses;
  • Disability registries represent an untapped resource for shock-responsive social protection;
  • Mainstream programmes supporting poor households and workers appear to have played a limited role in providing appropriate support during the crisis;
  • There are some indications that experience of COVID-19 is contributing to improvements in long-term systems;
  • Some countries combined multiple measures or adapted measures over time;
  • There has been a greater engagement of Organisations of Persons with Disabilities in social protection

Knox-Vydmanov's presentation was followed by Amba Salelkar’s from the International Disability Allowance, in which she discussed the coverage of social protection systems and those who are commonly left behind. For Salelkar, the construction of inclusive social protection systems needs to involve persons with disabilities and their representative organisations in all its diversity.

She also mentioned the existence of a complex relationship between social protection and the disability movement, which focuses its actions on substantive rights such as education, access to justice, or legal capacity. Sometimes, the right to social protection is not a priority since it can be misunderstood as a charity, an idea that members of the disability movement do not want policymakers to have. However, she stresses that social protection systems matter because they protect persons with disabilities against shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Salelkar concludes by mentioning several activities in social protection and disability fields, such as reports, workshops, and others.

Key steps towards inclusive social protection systems

In the third part of the session, Alex Cote, from UNICEF, presented issues to be addressed to build inclusive and shock-responsive social protection systems, which can be seen below. 



The speaker also discussed the importance of information systems that consider the needs of persons with disabilities. Amid a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is difficult for governments to conduct an adequate disability assessment. In this sense, having social protection registries that already have information on persons with disabilities ensures better decision-making related to distributing social benefits. Additionally, having a specific registry for disabilities and combining them with social protection registries proves to be a valuable element for building inclusive systems.

After that, he spoke about how to solve the disability assessment question and mentioned the example of Cambodia, which was able to develop a simple disability assessment tool.

Finally, Alex Cote stressed the importance of social protection policies to consider disability-related costs and their impacts on poverty and marginalisation of persons with disabilities. This process can affect persons with disabilities in vulnerable families and other social classes. To tackle disability-related costs, some measures can be taken, such as:

 1) adapt targeting mechanisms and means tests,

 2) adapt mainstream social assistance benefit value, and

 3) develop a context-relevant combination of in-kind and cash support.

Conclusions of the Second Recurrent Discussion on Social Protection, adopted at the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference on 19 June 2021

The final part of the session was conducted by Quynh Anh Nguyen from the ILO. She presented the main takeaways of the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference held in June. The conference highlighted significant developments concerning persons with disabilities, which were expressed in paragraph 12e. According to this paragraph, ILO state members should guarantee that:

  • Mainstream social protection policies and systems are inclusive of persons with disabilities and responsive to their specific needs,
  • including by removing barriers that prevent their inclusion and
  • providing access to adequate healthcare and rehabilitation,
  • as well as disability-specific benefits and home and community-based services,
  • appropriate to each person’s needs and based on self-determination

The webinar ended with a Q&A session that can be accessed here.  


This is the fourth webinar of the Disability Inclusive Social Protection Series. The series is organised by Australia DFAT in partnership with the ILO-UNICEF inclusive social protection initiative supported by the UNPRPD COVID-19 joint program. 

Fondations de la protection sociale: 
  • Policy
    • Expenditure and financing
    • Monitoring and evaluation systems
    • Governance and coordination
Approcjes de la protection sociale: 
  • Social protection systems
Domaines transversaux: 
  • Disability
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Global
  • Global
Les points de vue présentés ici sont les auteurs et non ceux de