As countries and households around the world continue to feel the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, calls to expand and strengthen government social protection measures are now almost universally accepted as a way to protect citizens and support local economies. Yet despite this growing consensus, a key question is what kind of social protection systems should be prioritised?

Universal child benefits (UCBs) are regular, unconditional income transfers in the form of cash or tax transfers, which are paid to caregivers of children from the time of pregnancy or birth until the child’s 18th birthday. However, they may initially be limited to a narrower age range, for example, covering early childhood.

In this report, the authors call upon governments, donors and other development partners to urgently support an expansion in social protection coverage of children and their caregivers (predominantly women), working progressively towards UCBs.


  1. Governments should urgently create more fiscal space for child-focused social protection, which may require the support of donors in lower-income contexts.
  2. Governments should work towards universal child benefits, ensure they meet the needs of children with disabilities, and integrate them with complimentary services.
  3. Governments should design UCBs to be shock-responsive and in countries experiencing humanitarian crises, all actors should make greater efforts to invest in government-led social protection.
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