Two thirds of households with children have lost income during pandemic

In Eastern and Southern Africa, where climate shocks, conflict, macroeconomic volatility and COVID-19 continue to inflict hardships on families, a new UNICEF-World Bank report shows that many children are going a day or more without eating

10 March 2022

NEW YORK/NAIROBI – At least two thirds of households with children have lost income since the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago, according to a new report published today by UNICEF and the World Bank.

Impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of households with children – which presents findings from data collected in 35 countries – notes that households with three or more children were most likely to have lost income, with more than three-quarters experiencing a reduction in earnings. This compares to 68 per cent of households with one or two children.

The report also notes that income losses have left adults in 1 in 4 households with children going without food for a day or more. Adults in nearly half of households with children reported skipping a meal due to a lack of money. Around a quarter of adults in households with or without children reported stopping working since the pandemic hit, the report says.

In total, eight countries from Eastern and Southern Africa are part of the study: Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. On top of the pandemic, many families and children are struggling with drought, torrential rains, cyclones, expanding conflict hotspots, rising prices, and shrinking job opportunities. In many cases, disrupted livelihoods are depriving children from having a home, attending school, or enjoying a nutritious meal.

Evidence confirms that strong social protection systems can be lifesaving for families impacted by socio-economic shocks, especially the use of cash transfer schemes. However, funding to support such initiatives has been severely constrained.

“Donors and the international community need to pay more attention to the fragility of social protection systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. We need to support and empower households so they can invest in themselves, overcome their current challenges and be ready for the next inevitable shock,” says Matthew Cummins, UNICEF Regional Advisor for Social Policy in the region. “Children and families should not be missing meals when the global community has the resources to help,” he adds.

Governments in the region don’t have the fiscal means to scale social protection systems to address malnutrition and other threats. Over the past two years, their income collapsed due to falling economic growth, their spending multiplied to address the pandemic and support jobs, and most governments are in or near debt distress, which means borrowing is no longer an option.

The only meaningful hope for families and children is for the international community to come together to further extend debt relief, voluntarily reallocate new Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) and provide new emergency funds. The treasure trove of fiscal space that is available globally could be immediately channeled through national cash transfer programs across Sub-Saharan Africa.

“The modest progress made in reducing child poverty in recent years risks being reversed in all parts of the world. Families have experienced loss at a staggering scale. While last year inflation reached its highest level in years, more than two thirds of households with children brought in less money. Families cannot afford food or essential health care services. They cannot afford housing. It is a dire picture, and the poorest households are being pushed even deeper in poverty,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programme Group.

The report finds that children are being deprived of the basics, with children in 40 per cent of households not engaging in any form of educational activities while their schools were closed. Given that data is compiled at the household level, the actual participation rate at individual level is likely even lower, especially for children who come from households with three or more children.

“The disruptions to education and health care for children, coupled with catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenses which affect more than 1 billion people, could put the brakes on the development of human capital – the levels of education, health and well-being people need to become productive members of society,” said Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, Global Director of Poverty and Equity for the World Bank. “This could lock in increases in inequality for generations to come, making it less likely that children will do better than their parents or grandparents.”

While households with three or more children were the most likely to experience a loss of income, they were also most likely to receive government assistance, with 25 per cent accessing this support, compared to 10 per cent of households with no children. The report notes that this helped to mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis on households who received support.

The report notes that prior to COVID-19, one in six children worldwide – 356 million – experienced extreme poverty, where household members struggled to survive on less than $1.90 a day. More than 40 per

cent of children lived in moderate poverty. And nearly 1 billion children lived in multidimensional poverty in developing countries, a figure that has since increased by 10 percent as a result of the pandemic.

UNICEF and the World Bank urge a rapid expansion of social protection systems for children and their families. Support including the delivery of cash transfers and the universalization of child benefits are critical investments that can help lift families out of economic distress and help them prepare for future shocks. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 200 countries or territories have introduced thousands of social protection measures, and the World Bank has supported countries with approximately $12.5 billion to implement such measures, reaching nearly 1 billion individuals worldwide.


Notes to editors:

The report draws on information from a set of high-frequency phone surveys (from 35 countries) and focusing solely on the impact of the crisis on children. In the paper, we analyze the initial impact of the crisis (with survey data collected during the period April to September 2020) as well as the subsequent evolution of the impact of the crisis (with survey data collected during the period October 2020 to May 2021). We focus on the following harmonized key indicators of children’s welfare covering both their individual conditions as well as those of the household they live in: (i) Income loss and job loss; (ii) Food insecurity (households reporting an adult member didn’t eat for a whole day or skipped a meal due to lack of money/resources); (iii) Social protection programs (whether households have received any government assistance since the beginning of the pandemic); and (iv) Education (participation in any educational activities following closures due to COVID-19).

Media contacts

Malene Kamp Jensen
Regional Chief of Communications
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +254 797 048 529
Ricardo Pires
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa
Tel: +32 468 468 477


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The World Bank Group provides financing, global knowledge, and long-term commitment to help low- and middle-income countries end poverty, achieve sustainable growth, and invest in opportunity for all. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has deployed over $157 billion to fight the health, economic, and social impacts of the pandemic, the fastest and largest crisis response in its history. The financing is helping more than 100 countries strengthen pandemic preparedness, protect the poor and jobs, and jump start a climate-friendly recovery. The World Bank is also supporting over 50 low- and middle-income countries, more than half of which are in Africa, with the purchase and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines, and is making available $20 billion in financing for this purpose until the end of 2022.

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