Social protection (welfare) in the UK
In the UK, if you have a child under 20, you are entitled to a Child Benefit of £82.80 a month for your first child and £54.80 for each thereafter. This entitlement is one of many social protection schemes in the UK that aim to protect citizens from poverty and deprivation.
Most people in the UK will receive one or more benefit payments for well over a third of their lives. So important is social protection to life in the UK that, in the 2016-17 financial year, the government spent £264 billion (34% of all government spending) on it, without including spending on health or education.
Social protection in Africa and Asia
We are lucky in the UK to have an established social protection system. However, if you are a child born in Africa, or in Asia, you are much less likely to benefit from any form of social protection. The International Labour Organisation estimates that just 16 percent and 28 percent of children in Africa and Asia respectively receive any social protection benefit. This is a major problem in the global fight against poverty and deprivation. As of 2016, an incredible 5.6 million children under five died, most from entirely preventable causes. Around half of these deaths are associated with undernutrition.
Child-sensitive social protection: an investment in our future
Things don’t need to be this way. As Save the Children’s work is showing, social protection schemes such as the DFID-funded Child Development Grant Programme in northern Nigeria, which provide income support to pregnant women and their young infants, alongside information on care and feeding practices, are a cost-effective way of protecting children from extreme poverty and malnutrition. After just two years, children born into families benefitting from a grant of just £8 a month are more likely to be food secure, have a more diverse diet, and less likely to grow up stunted (being too short for their age).
Programmes such as these are affordable for governments. In Nepal, it is estimated that providing a universal child grant to children under five would cost between just 0.25% and 0.38% of GDP. Ultimately what holds back expansion of child coverage in social protection systems is awareness and political will.
However, as more countries are able to finance and implement their own social protection systems, the less their children will be affected by extreme poverty and deprivation. By establishing sustainable systems, their citizens in the future will also be less dependent on, and at the mercy of, overseas aid.
Save the Children UK is working hard to build the evidence and demonstrate to governments and donors that investing in social protection systems that address the needs and vulnerabilities of children, is the right thing to do. Not only will it protect children from unnecessary suffering today, but it will mean that future generations are healthier and more productive, making them better placed to bring about greater prosperity in the future.
Luke Harman, Senior Social Protection Advisor, Save the Children UK firstname.lastname@example.org