Cash transfers offer a lifeline to vulnerable families during COVID-19

The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on families. But cash transfers are helping ease the strain.

Dilshat Zhussupova
Tukka, on the right, with her family.
UNICEF/Panos/2020/Patrick Brown
02 December 2020

Like any parent, Tukta Horakool wants a better life for her children. She saves the monthly 600-baht (US$19) Child Support Grant for her 2-year-old’s and 4-year-old’s education so that they can dream bigger than their small room in Khlong Toey.

“Unlike me, my children must have a better chance for schooling, and this money will help their education,” she said on receiving the monthly 1,000-baht (US$32) emergency top-up to the Child Support Grant in May-July 2020.

Since 2015, the Child Support Grant has helped poor and near-poor families like Tukta’s take better care of their children during the most important years of their development – below the age of 6. Investing in the earliest years helps children stay healthy, do better at school, have higher earnings and participate more in society.

The emergency top-up to existing cash transfer schemes further helped an estimated 1.4 million beneficiaries of the Child Support Grant from falling into deeper poverty for three months during the COVID-19 pandemic, a key UNICEF concern. UNICEF supported rapid assessments to generate evidence on the significant socio-economic impact of the pandemic and advocated for the emergency top-up to cash transfers as early as March in partnership with the Royal Thai Government, UN agencies under the UN Joint Programme on Social Protection, Thailand Development Research Institute and the Civil Society Coalition for the Universal Child Support Grant.

These cash transfers were crucial and timely. The pandemic brought on a major loss of income for Tukta’s family after her husband was laid off. The family stretches her 9,200-baht (US$297) monthly wage to meet growing expenses on face masks and hand sanitizers for school.

“Education is important, I only have a high school education,” said the 29-year-old, who struggled with drug addiction in her youth. “I look at my two children, and I can't let them fall for drugs or let them grow up without a parent like I did.”

Daoprakri Deepal at her workplace as a nursery teacher.
UNICEF/Panos/2020/Patrick Brown
Daoprakri Deepal, 23, Bangkok, Thailand, is a nursery teacher and lives in a small 4x4 meter space with her husband and three children. COVID-19 has brought a lot of pressure to her life.

Food donations and instant noodles. This is how another family in Khlong Toey reduced their living expenses after Daoprakri Deepal’s husband was laid off and the family took on a 20,000-baht (US$644) debt.

“The Child Support Grant and top-up helped us survive through the COVID-19 crisis. We spent the money on essential supplies and children’s products that were not provided in hygiene kits from the government and donors,” said the mother of a 5-year-old, 3-year-old and 2-year-old.

“The challenge is that we do not know when COVID-19 will end and if my husband will be able to find a new job. We will be reaching a critical point in our expenses,” she added, worried about taking on more debt.

It is month five of supporting the family of five on her 9,000-baht (US$290) monthly wage as a child care teacher. The uncertainty is taking a toll on her mental health.

“I have depression and need to take daily medication. During the long period of COVID-19, I gained more stress because I was worried about many problems, my family struggling and having to take out my savings,” said the 23-year-old.

For Daoprakri’s family and many others, “the [monthly] top-up was only sufficient for 1-2 weeks.” Moreover, many families pushed into destitution during the pandemic did not receive the Child Support Grant and top-up because they were not considered poor at the time of registration.

That is why UNICEF is advocating for expanding social protection support to the most vulnerable children, including extending the Child Support Grant to all children under 6 to mitigate the continued, long-term economic impact of the pandemic. This will help protect all families from deepening poverty in tougher times ahead and build resilience against future shocks. UNICEF and UNDP found that the poverty rate is projected to increase in the third quarter of the year, according to the COVID-19 social impact assessment.

“The Child Support Grant and top-up was crucial for these already struggling families to survive the economic pressure of the pandemic,” said Tomoo Okubo, UNICEF Thailand Acting Chief of Social Policy. “But with this pressure piling up and far from over, UNICEF is advocating for continued social protection, particularly for the most vulnerable. This is important not only to protect the at-risk population from extreme poverty, but also to ensure the physical, emotional and psychological development of all children now and in the future.”

Daoprakri never had the chance to continue her education when she was a teenager pregnant with her first child.

“I can't turn back time. Today, I have a family of my own and see that the only thing I can do to make up for the time when I didn't care [about school] when I was young is to take good care of my three children, give them love and be their best mother,” she said on her hopes for securing a better future for her children.