Universal child benefits critical for reducing poverty, new ODI and UNICEF global report finds

As the economic fallout of COVID-19 deepens, investment in social protection systems is key to protecting families from catastrophic levels of deprivation and financial hardship

30 June 2020

UNICEF is issuing a new call for universal child benefits to ensure that every child has a chance of a healthy, productive future. The joint ODI and UNICEF global report Universal Child Benefits: Policy Issues and Options highlights that universal child benefits provide direct financial relief for families and have been proven to drive down poverty rates and help children flourish. 

To be universal, child benefits must be paid regularly to every family with one or more children, regardless of income. As compared to targeted programmes, which focus on a subset of the population, universal programmes:

• Reduce poverty more effectively;

• Avoid burdensome red tape and clerical errors that may inadvertently exclude eligible


• Erase the potential stigma associated with being a recipient;

• Are likely to provide more robust benefits to local economies;

• Are easier to scale up in times of crisis, as we have seen with COVID-19; and

• Strengthen the social contract, as everyone contributes to -- and benefits from -- the wellbeing and development of their country’s children.

“Investing in children not only changes their lives but also yields high dividends for their communities and for society as a whole,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Now more than ever, as the economic fallout of COVID-19 threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing poverty, universal child benefits can be a lifeline. They can protect vulnerable families from deepening levels of poverty and deprivation and can save countries from catastrophic societal and economic impacts.”

“Universal child benefits play a critical role in reducing poverty while promoting social cohesion and public support for social protection. In countries with established universal child benefits, they constitute a cornerstone of national social policy systems and are effective in scaling up social protection in times of crisis,” says Sara Pantuliano, Chief Executive at ODI. 

Importantly, the report notes that cash transfer programmes do not lead to a reduction in participation in paid work among the working-age population. Rather, cash transfers help parents to balance the demands of employment with the needs of their families. 

The report stresses that universal child benefits must be supported by comprehensive social protection systems and quality social services, including healthcare and education.

In the face of COVID-19, governments should seize this moment as a first step toward universality and achieving substantial - if not full - coverage by 2030, in line with the Global Goals. A phased approach might start with universal coverage for young children, given the critical development that takes place in the early years, and expand the eligible age range over time. Investing in benefits #ForEveryChild is an investment in that future.

Notes to editors:

ODI is an independent, global think tank, working for a sustainable and peaceful world in which every person thrives. For more information on ODI’s research, please visit www.odi.org. 



Media Contacts

Nina Sorokopud
Chief of Communication
UNICEF in Ukraine
Tel: +380503129679


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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