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Universal Child Benefits

Universal Child Benefits (UCBs) are increasingly discussed as a policy instrument to achieve universal social protection and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. At present, 385 million children live in extreme poverty, and 45% of all children live below the $3.10 moderate poverty line, with both immediate negative effects for children and long-term consequences on their longevity and quality of life as adults.

Social protection has proven an effective instrument in addressing poverty, as recognised in SDG 1.3, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation and the Global Partnership on Universal Social Protection (USP2030). Yet social protection coverage of children worldwide is low and highly uneven. Almost two thirds of children (1.3 billion) are not covered by any form of social protection.

Cash transfers have been increasingly adopted by countries worldwide and there is growing interest in the potential for transfers to make a significant difference in the lives of children. In addition, the global discussion on universal basic income demonstrates a growing appetite for universal approaches to direct support. At the same time, debates on the effectiveness and trade-offs of alternative policy options remain alive. Key issues around targeting and universalism, conditionality, policy financing, the positioning of cash transfer schemes within wider social and fiscal policy, variations in cash transfer core design features (such as the level of transfers, duration of participation) and their implications for policy impact on children's outcomes and policy sustainability are widely debated. 

This project, a collaboration between UNICEF and ODI, seeks to support and promote informed policy debate and decision-making with regards to cash transfers, social protection and the objectives of reducing child poverty and improving wider outcomes for children. Through the completion of a comprehensive research report and the convening of an international conference, the project explores the theoretical arguments and the evidence on alternative cash transfer schemes, their links to wider social and fiscal policy, and their implications for the design and implementation of Universal Child Benefits.

Outputs from this project will include a research report and an international conference on UCBs.  


Francesca Bastagli, Emma Samman, Nathalie Both, Martin Evans, Heiner Solomon