UNICEF’s social protection response to COVID-19

Publication Year:
December 15, 2020
  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-Being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Remarks from Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director

"The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented socioeconomic crisis, which threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty, leaving children deprived of essential services and families struggling financially. Without concerted action to expand social protection systems, families who are already barely getting by will likely be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades. UNICEF is strongly supporting governments and people in over 115 countries to deliver social protection and strengthen systems – and is committed to continuing and expanding this work during the COVID-19 response and recovery."

COVID-19 is having a devastating impact on children and their families.

Current estimates suggest that an additional 117 million children will be living in poverty in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, with impacts extending into the medium and longer term. Beyond income, the pandemic is deepening poverty across every dimension of a child’s life, including health, education, nutrition, housing, water and sanitation. In addition to these vulnerabilites, children who face further exclusion due to gender, ethnicity, geographic location, displacement or disability status, will be adversely impacted. Unless addressed, these compounding effects will be felt most immediately by children and their families, but the longer-term impact on societies and economies could be devastating.




Social protection is a recognized strategy for poverty reduction, as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 1, 3, 5, 8 and 10), with a proven role in supporting children and families.

It is a critical risk management strategy that is particularly crucial in times of crisis, as joblessness and poverty rise. It is also a lifeline, protecting families from falling deeper into poverty and helping them avoid negative coping strategies. Moreover, extensive evidence shows that social protection programmes have positive impacts across a range of areas, from improved access to health and education to increased food and economic security and child protection outcomes.


In response to COVID-19, over 190 countries have expanded their social protection coverage, including more than 155 countries that have expanded national cash transfer programmes.

However, the pandemic has also highlighted existing gaps in social protection systems across regions: Two out of three children have no access to any form of child or family benefits, and protection gaps are found in relation to those working in the informal and care economy, in equitable access to health insurance, and in gender-sensitive and inclusive social protection. So, while the response has been positive, the challenge is to make sure it is not simply a stop-gap solution, but the start of a longer-term process of building sustainable social protection systems.




With teams on the ground in over 115 countries, UNICEF is ready and able to support governments’ social protection response and recovery programmes.

UNICEF has been working with governments for over 20 years to build and strengthen social protection systems in a variety of contexts. Already, in response to the pandemic, UNICEF has helped strengthen national systems that are reaching over 44 million households.




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