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Child poverty will remain above pre-COVID levels for at least five years in high-income countries

In high-income countries, only 2 per cent of fiscal stimulus was allocated specifically to support children during the first wave of COVID-19

FLORENCE/NEW YORK, 11 December 2020 – Child poverty is expected to remain above pre-COVID levels for at least five years in high-income countries. Yet, only 2 per cent of government-provided financial relief across OECD and EU countries was allocated specifically to support children and families raising children during the first wave of the pandemic, according to a new UNICEF report.

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social Protection in High Income Countries – produced by the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti – explores how the social and economic impact of the pandemic is likely to affect children; the initial government responses to the crisis; and how future public policies could be optimised to better support children.

“The amount of financial relief allocated directly to children and families does not match the severe fallout of the pandemic, nor how long this crisis is expected to impact these countries” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.

10.8 trillion USD was spent on COVID-19 responses by high-income countries from February to the end of July 2020, around 90 per cent of which was spent on fiscal stimulus packages directed to, or through, business

An historic 10.8 trillion USD was spent on COVID-19 responses by high-income countries from February to the end of July 2020, around 90 per cent of which was spent on fiscal stimulus packages directed to, or through, business, the report notes. Although an essential part of the crisis response, business supports will inevitably exclude the most marginalized children and their families in society, meaning the worst off will be hardest hit. “As the second wave of COVID-19 strengthens its grip, a better balance must be sought” said Olsson.

Around one-third of OECD and EU countries included in the report did not implement any policies specifically aimed at supporting children in their response to the first wave of the pandemic. Among countries that did invest in social protection interventions for children and families – including childcare, school feeding and family allowances – the majority of these only lasted on average three months. The short-term nature of this is completely inadequate to address the projected length of the crisis and child poverty risks in the long run, the report notes.

A child in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, plays football with his father at Can Pere Antoni Beach during a national lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Spain has been one of the countries in Europe hardest hit by the pandemic.

 

“We are urging governments to ramp up social protection for children, alongside business supports” said Olsson. “Stronger family-focused policies must include a combination of unconditional income support for the poorest families, allowances for food, childcare and utilities, rent or mortgage waivers provided for the long-term to set stronger foundations so all children, and their families, can recover from this crisis.”

The report offers guidance to help find a better balance to meet the needs of both families raising children and the necessary business supports, including strategies to protect children and families from further fallout as the second wave of COVID-19 takes hold:

  • Specifically, relax eligibility criteria for existing family policies, including employment conditions, social contributions, and residency, to enable the all vulnerable families with children – for instance, jobless households, the near poor, and recent migrants – to access benefits at this time.
  • Diversify social protection responses to cover the range of needs of children and their families during COVID-19, including income support, school feeding and/or replacement services, childcare, healthcare, and waivers for utilities, rent and/or mortgages.
  • As countries look to a post-COVID future, ensure that inclusive family policies – designed specifically to protect children from poverty, and improve the well-being of all children – are built into the heart of COVID-19 recovery responses.
  • Continued business supports can include conditions that seek to promote family-friendly and equitable investment of these public funds – for example, regulating leave and work conditions for parents – options so far underutilised in fiscal stimulus packages. 
  • Protect existing child and family benefits and services from austerity, known to increase violence, homelessness, poor health, and child institutionalisation.
  • Look to the long-term, strengthen social protection systems, and child and family policies that prevent poverty, to maximise progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and build resilience to future shocks.
  • Rebalance present fiscal stimulus to allow for increases in social protection expenditure, in line with the evidence on what works for protecting children during crises. The public and private costs related to falling living conditions in the child population today will be long lasting, and expensive, as greater demand for more intensive social interventions follow over time.

Publications

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social protection in high-income countries
Publication Publication

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social protection in high-income countries

COVID-19 constitutes the greatest crisis that high-income countries have seen in many generations. While many high-income countries experienced the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, or have had national recessions, the COVID-19 pandemic is much more than that. COVID-19 is a social and economic crisis, sparked by a protracted health crisis. High-income countries have very limited experience of dealing with health crises, having their health and human services stretched beyond capacity, restricting the travel of their populations or having to close workplaces and schools – let alone experience of all of these things combined. These unique conditions create new and serious challenges for the economies and societies of all high-income countries. As these challenges evolve, children – as dependants – are among those at greatest risk of seeing their living standards fall and their personal well-being decline. This new UNICEF Innocenti report explores how the social and economic impact of the pandemic is likely to affect children; the initial government responses to the crisis; and how future public policies could be optimized to better support children.
Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social protection in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Publication Publication

Supporting Families and Children Beyond COVID-19: Social protection in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Acknowledging that health, economic, and social crises can rapidly become a crisis for children, this paper seeks to contribute evidence to understanding what the crisis means for children and for families with children in the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In particular, what governments and stakeholders should be looking for when seeking to protect children from the worst outcomes of the crisis. In doing so, this paper asks: Through which mechanisms can COVID-19 affect children in the region? What can we learn from previous crises about the potential effects on children and those who care for children? How is vulnerability to poverty and child well-being likely to be affected? Are initial government responses to the crisis likely to worsen or mitigate risks to children’s well-being? And how might future public policies be optimized in the short and medium term to protect child outcomes?
A Rapid Review of Economic Policy and Social Protection Responses to Health and Economic Crises and Their Effects on Children: Lessons for the COVID-19 pandemic response
Publication Publication

A Rapid Review of Economic Policy and Social Protection Responses to Health and Economic Crises and Their Effects on Children: Lessons for the COVID-19 pandemic response

This rapid review seeks to inform initial and long-term public policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by assessing evidence on past economic policy and social protection responses to health and economic crises and their effects on children and families. The review focuses on virus outbreaks/emergencies, economic crises and natural disasters which, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, were rapid in onset, had wide-ranging geographical reach, and resulted in disruption of social services and economic sectors without affecting governance systems. Lessons are also drawn from the HIV/AIDS pandemic due to its impact on adult mortality rates and surviving children.