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Increasing Links Between Humanitarian Cash and Social Protection for an Effective Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Action Against Hunger
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We, representatives of donors, UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and INGOs listed below, recommend that governments, donors, development and humanitarian partners increase provision of cash assistance, where appropriate, to help populations directly or indirectly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. We also recommend that the cash response of humanitarian organisations consciously aligns with, builds on, complements and fills gaps in national social protection programmes and systems, where appropriate, taking into account humanitarian principles, to mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable, leaving no one behind.

RATIONALE FOR THESE RECOMMENDATIONS

Access to adequate social protection1 , especially cash transfers where these are appropriate, is essential at times of crisis and must be part of national responses to this pandemic: social protection instruments are proven to help households reduce risks and manage shocks. Globally, cash transfers are the most common government led social protection instrument and are widely used by international humanitarian actors. Especially when combined with other services and support, cash transfers help people to reduce the negative impacts of crises. Evidence from the global financial crisis, previous epidemics, conflicts, forced displacement and a range of natural disasters shows that cash transfers help to maintain access to healthcare, protect consumption, support protection and recovery of livelihoods, and sustain investments in human capital.

Beyond health impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic represents an economic and human capital crisis of global proportions: as a result, around 500 million more people could be living in poverty. The pandemic is impacting households by reducing incomes and purchasing power, increasing unemployment, increasing expenses for health, increasing prices of critical commodities due to disruption of markets, as well as increasing psychosocial and protection risks including violence against women and girls. Negative impacts will be disproportionately higher for poor households, women, children, people living with disabilities, older people and the chronically ill, and groups and communities already affected by hunger and other crises such as the forcibly displaced, migrants and households recovering from humanitarian crises. Better-off sections of the population not typically covered by national assistance may also need support.

In the poorest countries, and those dealing with existing crises, the impact of the pandemic threatens to create humanitarian catastrophes and reverse recent gainsiii.
Where markets and services are functioning, social assistance and humanitarian cash transfers are essential to avoid a catastrophic drop in living standards, meet basic needs, maintain dignity, protect livelihoods and prevent a deepening of poverty and inequalities. They are essential to help prevent further spread of the disease, by providing income to those who would otherwise be forced to continue to work. Furthermore, advances in digital payment systems mean cash can be quicker and, importantly in the COVID-19 context, safer to deliver than other forms of assistance while doing no harm (especially ensuring data protection and dignity).

As of 1st May 2020, 159 countries have planned, introduced or adapted social protection programmes in response to COVID-19, with cash transfers being the most used measure. While the speed and magnitude of national responses is unprecedented, much more is needed.

Aligning the international humanitarian cash response to COVID-19 with, and building it on, national social protection programmes and systems2 , where feasible and appropriate, can contribute to an efficient and effective response and achieve lasting results: humanitarian action to address the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 is being planned in many countries. Globally there is growing commitment to build humanitarian cash responses upon and complement existing national social protection systemsiv. Almost all countries where humanitarian responses to COVID-19 are being planned have existing or emerging national cash transfer schemes. This is an opportunity to plan humanitarian cash transfers which take account of, build on and strengthen these institutions and systems where possible.

Where national cash transfers exist, humanitarian organisations can help ensure continuity of this support for some of the most vulnerable. They can also help adapt and expand government-led schemes to reach more of those in need, including newly vulnerable groups and those harder to reach. Where government programmes do not have the capacity to cover all of the most vulnerable, or where people are excluded from national systems, humanitarian assistance can be aligned to fill critical gaps based on humanitarian needs in a coherent and systemic way and can be implemented using common systems and processes. Aligning with and building national systems holds potential to improve timeliness and reduce costs of the response, reduce fragmentation of aid and create sustained impacts by contributing to longer-term national social protection system development.

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