Credits @UN Photo/Martine Perret
Published on April 16, 2020

Protecting People: Social Protection during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis continues to impact the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.  

As world leaders strive to lead our governments in adapting, extending and scaling-up cash transfers, food assistance programmes, social insurance programmes and child benefits to support families, among others,[1] we remain painfully aware that 4 billion people – accounting for 55% of the world population, including 2 out of 3 children – have no access to any form of support.  

Social protection responses must consider differentiated impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups, women and men and those surviving on income in the informal sector. Therefore, the scope of the challenges ahead requires an extraordinary scale-up of support[2].

Medical workers get dressed in protective clothing. @UN Photo/Martine Perret

The United Nations development system is the world’s largest international actor on social protection and basic services. The UN System is present in 162 countries and reaches tens of millions of people through basic services, social transfers and other forms of social protection. The UN has extensive experience in supporting governments in developing social protection systems including social protection floors and delivery of quality social services and to support such services across humanitarian and development contexts.

The Joint SDG Fund is an example of how the UN system unites through joint programmes to deliver and protect people. Last year, the Joint Fund launched 35 joint programmes focused on Leaving No One Behind to incorporate the most vulnerable into national social protection systems.

With the impacts of COVID-19 becoming more apparent in our programming countries every day, the Joint Fund is offering UN country teams the space and flexibility to re-programme up to 20% of their funding to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups, aligned with the existing strategies of their joint programmes.  Re-purposed funding will be utilized through the UN agencies, funds or programmes already participating in the programme and compliment the humanitarian response, coordinated with Governments, and without overlapping with related funding and initiatives.

Re-purposing activities must align with the wider joint programme strategy, and might include, but are not limited to, the following areas:


  • Multi-sectoral, multi-partner coordination, planning, monitoring and  capacity strengthening at the central, regional or local level
  • Integrated data collection and analysis, and improving data systems, including with digital technology
  • Awareness raising, strategic communications, and sharing and learning in furtherance with the existing plans presented in JP annexes


As UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, told us on April 2, 2020, “We simply cannot return to where we were before Covid-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. We need to build a better world.” The Joint SDG Fund is committed to ensure we build back better and ensure we maintain our vigilance and commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.



[1] Cash transfers: what does the evidence say? A rigorous review of impacts and the role of design and implementation features. Bastagli et al. ODI. 2016.

[2] Towards universal social protection for children: Achieving SDG 1.3. UNICEF and ILO. 2019.