Universal child benefits, such as unconditional cash payments or tax transfers, are critical in the fight child poverty, yet are just available in 1 in 10 countries worldwide, in accordance with a new report published by the Overseas Development Institute and UNICEF on Wednesday.
The report Universal Child Benefits: Policy Issues and Options highlights that universal cash benefits provided to young ones in middle-income countries at a price of just 1 % of GDP would cause 20 % decline in poverty throughout the entire populace, UNICEF said in a pr release.
In 15 high-income countries, delivering universal child benefits alone resulted in a 5 percentage point reduction in child poverty, on average. Universal child benefits are also which can reduce deprivation, improving children’s overall well-being, health, education, food security, productivity and ability to donate to their societies and economies when they reach adulthood.
“Investing in children not only changes their lives but yields high dividends for their communities and for society as a whole,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Now more than ever, as the economic fallout of COVID-19 threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing poverty, universal child benefits can be a lifeline. They can protect vulnerable families from deepening levels of poverty and deprivation, and can save countries from catastrophic societal and economic impacts.”
Universalizing benefits reduces risks often related to narrow means testing whereby some families in need are left without financial support, including due to exclusion errors. Universalizing social protection programmes such as for example cash or tax transfers also really helps to remove stigma associated with benefit schemes over all.
“Universal child benefits play a critical role in reducing poverty while promoting social cohesion and public support for social protection. In countries with established universal child benefits, they constitute a cornerstone of national social policy systems and are effective in scaling up social protection in times of crisis,” says Sara Pantuliano, Chief Executive at ODI.
Francesca Bastagli, lead writer of the report and Director of Equity and Social Policy at ODI, adds “In practice, countries have achieved high population coverage, or full UCBs, following different trajectories. Progressive realisation is common, through an iterative process involving the adoption of UCB legislation and policy regulation, strengthening administrative and financing capacity, and building political and public support for policy.”
Importantly, the report notes that cash transfer programmes do not cause a reduction in participation in paid work one of the working-age populace. Rather, cash transfers help parents balance the demands of employment with the wants of their families.
The report makes clear that expanding coverage of child and family benefits schemes requires national prioritization and international solidarity in financing – especially for low income countries grappling with large populations and more constrained budgets because of COVID-19. It also stresses that universal child benefits must be supported by comprehensive social protection systems and quality social services, including healthcare and education.
The report further highlights pathways to achieving universal coverage, including ways low-income countries can implement transfers for young children and build up to universality for several age groups. Steps including the adoption of legislation and policy regulation, strengthening administrative and financing capacity, and building political and public support for policy are all critical to achieving universal child benefits.