Families and children are among the population groups heavily affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and social security systems have responded rapidly to meet their specific needs.
Many families are experiencing a significant drop in household income due to economic restrictions, and organizing childcare has been an important challenge in view of school and nursery closures. The impact of the coronavirus crisis has been particularly harsh for vulnerable families and children, including lone-parent families and those affected or at risk of poverty.
An important number of social security measures has been put in place by governments to respond to the needs of families during the coronavirus crisis, and these measures can be classified into six main groups:
- Adaptation of existing family allowances and child benefit schemes, most frequently through an increase in the standard benefit amounts, special emergency supplements, the relaxation of conditionality rules and administrative flexibility to facilitate access.
- Temporary paid childcare leave provisions, to provide working parents who need to take care of children in the context of school and nursery closures with access to a replacement income.
- Provision of childcare services to staff deemed essential, so that parents are able to discharge their duty.
- Nursery cost reductions, through the exemption of families from payments to childcare facilities during their closure, and the shift of the financing of these institutions to the government.
- Temporary support programmes targeting children and families, consisting of a variety of one-off or temporary payments of cash or in-kind benefits. These benefits are mostly financed by general revenues as part of special emergency packages and usually apply simple income-tests.
- General temporary support programmes for low-income groups, which greatly benefit families and children in addition to other vulnerable population groups.
As regards measures to strengthen existing family allowances and child benefit schemes in the context of the coronavirus crisis, Canada and Iceland have increased child benefits for 2020, and child grants in South Africa will be raised starting in May. Child benefits have also been increased in Israel for each child up the fourth, and have been doubled in Albania. Conditions for the receipt of child benefits have been relaxed in Guatemala where the payment of the child grant is not anymore dependent on school attendance. In Germany, the child supplement for low-income families has been transformed into an emergency child supplement: the income test is based on only the last month’s income rather than six months, the asset test has been suspended and access has been extended to all parents including the self-employed.
Romania has implemented a temporary paid leave benefit for one of the parents required to look after their children up to age twelve, due to school and nursery closures.. Similar paid childcare leave arrangements have been implemented in Cyprus, Malta, Italy, Japan, Portugal, and the Repubic of Korea. Poland recognizes the special needs of parents of children with disabilities through an extended payment period.
In Norway, parents have been exempted from paying fees for childcare facilities while they are closed, and the government covers the resulting financing gap. This exemption also applies to those parents who work in professions deemed essential for the emergency response and for whom childcare remains accessible. The Family Allowances Fund in France is also making special payments to nursery care institutions affected by income reductions due to closures.
In addition to adaptations to existing schemes, special support measures for families and children have been implemented in different regions. In Armenia, unemployed parents with young children receive a special payment for each child. In Peru and Bolivia, new cash transfers support the most vulnerable families and in Argentina, a Family Emergency Allowance offers a one-time payment. Recognizing the importance of school lunches in the diet of children, school lunch programmes have been transformed into pick-up services in Liberia. Emergency food packages for low-income families are provided in South Africa, the Kyrgyz Republic and the Dominican Republic, food coupons have been made available for needy families in Djibouti, and the Singaporean government has provided supermarket vouchers.
Families and children also benefit from a significant number of temporary income support programs targeted more broadly at low-income households, including not only families but also the elderly, the unemployed and other vulnerable groups. In France, a special solidarity benefit will be payable once to low-income families and individuals in May. The Islamic Republic of Iran has announced a one-time cash transfer to the most vulnerable households that also covers some three million families. In Paraguay, beneficiaries of the cash transfer program for low-income population groups receive an extra payment. Chile has introduced a “COVID-19 grant” benefitting about two million persons with low income, and the governments in Senegal and Guinea pay utilities bills for low-income households.
In sum, a high number of important social security measures have been taken to help families through the coronavirus crisis. In view of social distancing, lockdowns and other restrictions, however, the delivery of support to families and children has been particularly challenging. Social security institutions have demonstrated a significant innovative capacity in this regard. To overcome knowledge gaps and promote access to existing and new social security measures, special communication efforts targeted at eligible persons were launched in Chile. In order to reduce health risks and avoid crowds at banks, payments in Argentina are issued on different weekdays based on the last digit of the national ID. Staggered payment dates were also introduced in South Africa to reduce queues at cash grant collection points and banks. In France, the family allowances fund has supported the establishment of free phone consultations with childcare professionals for parents and young people encountering difficulties. Such innovations will certainly remain of high value in the delivery of benefits and services in the post-coronavirus period.
For more details about the measures mentioned in this article, consult the ISSA social security country measures service.