Over a third of world’s population have no ‘social protection’ to cope with Covid-19 economic crisis

Over a third of world’s population have no ‘social protection’ to cope with Covid-19 economic crisis

  • Covid-19 – “united the world in fear but has divided it in response”  

New Oxfam research shows that over a third of the world’s population (2.7 billion people) have had no public money to cope with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Their new report, Shelter from the Storm, done in partnership with Development Pathways, reviewed government schemes - such as disability, unemployment, child, and elderly benefits - used to help people in 126 low and middle-income countries, finding none of them were adequate to meet people’s needs. 

Overall, the world has spent an additional $11.7 trillion this year to cope with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Of this, $9.8 trillion (83 percent) was spent by 36 rich countries against just $42 billion (0.4 percent) by 59 low-income countries. 

Of additional funds – like Ireland’s PUP scheme - used specifically for social protection measures, of the countries analysed, richer nations spent a rate of $695 per person. In contrast, low-income and emerging countries have spent at a per capita rate of between $28 to as low as $4.  

To make matters worse, rich countries have only increased their aid to developing countries for social protection by $5.8 billion – the equivalent of less than five cents for every $100 raised to tackle Covid-19.

Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland said: “The coronavirus united the world in fear but has divided it in response. The pandemic sparked a laudable global effort that reached nearly two billion more people with social protection support over 2020 but, as of today, more people have been left behind entirely.”

The need for better social protection programs to help people is huge. Half a billion people are now under-employed or out of work, with twice as many women affected as men. Workers in low-income countries have suffered the most, losing 23 percent of their working hours. People are falling into debt, skipping meals, keeping children from school, and selling their assets. Remittance flows from migrant workers to families back home have collapsed, while global poverty and hunger are rocketing.

Clarken said that social protection is both a lifeline and a human right, and one of the most powerful and affordable investments to reduce inequality, vulnerability, poverty and need. 

Clarken continued: “The case for overseas aid, progressive taxation and international solidarity has never been stronger, precisely because of this desperate time in which we are living through.

“All this because inequality is a hard-wired design feature rather than design fault of our global economic system. Millions of desperate people see precious little relief ahead without urgent action.

“Oxfam has reached 11.3 million people through its Covid-19 response programming around the world, however, as much as civil society is mobilising together strongly, with local partners and community leadership to the fore, the scale of people’s need is overwhelming and growing”. 

“Our report illustrates stories like Sovann Vary’s, a single mother who borrowed $5,000 to buy a tuk-tuk when her job as a domestic cleaner ended. She is struggling to repay and is ineligible for the social insurance scheme set up by her Cambodian government. And Brenda Carolina who was similarly rejected from Guatemalan support as an informal garment worker – her family now depends upon sporadic food aid. We’re hearing hundreds of stories like Vary’s and Brenda’s, every day.

“There is still time for developing country governments to step up their support for people by increasing taxes on the richest to pay for decent universal social protection programs. As is there still time for rich nations to increase their aid and currency reserves, and cancel debts, to help poorer countries in their response.”

Oxfam is calling for a Global Fund for Social Protection to avert a huge increase in global inequality and poverty, as a keystone toward a more equal and resilient post-Covid economy. Governments should commit an additional two percent of their GDP into social protection programs and ensure minimum income security for children, the elderly, mothers, and people living with disability.

Clarken concluded: “An unprecedented investment is now required. One that bravely meets the crisis head on.”  



Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 87 912 3165 

Alice Dawson-Lyons | alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org | +353 (0) 83 198 1869 


Download the full report | Download the summary

The report finds:

  • 41 percent of the 126 countries studied had social protection schemes consisting of one-off payments, now long exhausted; only 13 percent had programs that lasted longer than six months. Eight out of 10 countries have not reached even half their citizens. 
  • Some countries like South Africa, the Philippines, Namibia and Bolivia were better prepared with near-universal social benefits in place prior to the pandemic. Oxfam says that most other countries could achieve this with better policies and more support. 
  • By 2030, Kenya and Indonesia, for example, could cut their poverty rate by 25 percent and 31 percent respectively by investing 1.7 percent of their GDP now into universal social protection schemes. 
  • Many developing countries have been able to mobilise non-financial help, like food aid, but this is often insufficient to make up the overall gap in formal social protection schemes.

Prior the coronavirus pandemic, up to 4 billion people lacked social protection, according to ILO (World Social Protection Report 2017-19).

The World Bank estimates that 1.3 billion have been reached since with social assistance cash transfer coverage expansion. Source WB: U. Gentilini et al. (2020). Social Protection and Jobs Responses to COVID-19. About 2.7 billion people have consequently been left behind. 

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