The International Conference on Universal Child Grants was held in Geneva from February 6 to 8, 2019.
(11 February 2019) Bringing together policy makers, practitioners, and researchers, the International Conference on Universal Child Grants, convened by UNICEF, the International Labour Organization, and the Overseas Development Institute, from February 6 to 8, 2019, explored the arguments and evidence emerging from cash transfer schemes and the implications for universal child grants. Aiming to promote an evidence-informed policy debate, as part of a larger UNICEF and ODI-led project on UCGs, the conference agenda leveraged lessons learned from cash transfers and social protection for reducing child poverty worldwide.
Co-authored by UNICEF Innocenti’s Dominic Richardson, a new joint UNICEF-ILO report, Towards universal social protection for children: Achieving SDG 1.3, was launched during the conference. The report calls for the rapid expansion of social protection programmes for children in order to meet the sustainable development goals, noting that reducing child labour, child poverty and vulnerability are interlinked with protective benefits such as access to nutrition, health, and education.
The report, in tandem with the Universal Child Grants Conference, emphasized that universal social protection for children is not only a privilege of wealthy countries – several developing countries, including as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mongolia and South Africa, have achieved or nearly achieved universal coverage. However, many more countries struggle with limited social protection coverage, inadequate benefits, fragmentation and weak institutionalization. Alarmingly, some governments are even cutting allowances, instead of extending benefits.
Richardson, who moderated a panel on social protection in high-income countries, noted there was consensus on strong evidence pointing to a positive universal child grant effect, but more discussion is needed on how to get there sustainably, looking at models of success from rich countries where it works. “Every country, bar two, with a universal child grant in the OECD has below average poverty rates – it’s clear that it works,” he said.
UNICEF Innocenti’s Social Policy Specialist Frank Otchere was also onsite to present on cash transfers and dignity and shame, highlighting the dignity-enhancing benefits of cash transfers to poor households and the need to make the design and implementation of cash transfers ‘shame-proof’.
“While the concept of universal child grants enjoys popular support in the international development space, more evidence is required on the political economy and fiscal implications in order to increase uptake,” Otchere said.
“That’s where we come in,” added Maja Gavrilovic, UNICEF Innocenti’s Social Protection Consultant, who also presented at the conference. “Commitments to universal approaches to social protection are definitely expanding, and many countries, such as Mongolia and Argentina, are leading the way. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, the old myths about cash transfers causing dependency, and perverse behaviors, still linger on,” Gavrilovic said. In support of the research UNICEF Innocenti is doing to bust myths about how cash transfers really work, Gavrilovic added, “I think this calls for the more vigorous and strategic use of the available evidence, especially at the country levels, to debunk these unwarranted concerns.”
Gavrilovic spoke on the panel on ‘Gender equality and women’s empowerment’, co-presenting along with her former colleague Juan Gonzalo Jaramillo Meija, on the preliminary findings research which explores the question 'Can Universal Child Grants can lead to a more gender equal society?' During the panel, Gavrilovic and panel members reflected on the role universal child grants play in promoting more equitable and progressive gender roles and relations within families and how universal child grants can be designed to benefit both caregivers, and care receivers, to ensure children grow up in positive environments where they can develop and thrive to the best of their abilities.