Covid-19 has hit Bangladesh hard, affecting export earnings, the local economy and remittances from overseas. In response, the European Union and other development partners have stepped up their coordination efforts and are providing substantial financial and technical support for social protection measures so that the country can scale up its assistance and support the “new poor”, pushed into poverty by the pandemic.
The European Union:
- has provided €24 million so far this year to the country’s national budget towards transitional government support (food or cash) for households;
- will make €93 million available towards income support for workers in the ready-made garment and export sectors. This may pave the way for a social security system for workers in line with minimum international standards; and
- is providing technical assistance to enable the government’s cash transfer system (Government-to-Person, or G2P) to cope with the increase in transactions caused by Covid-19. This includes making sure that beneficiaries are eligible and receive due payment.
Even before the pandemic hit, the EU and Bangladesh were working closely on social protection. Last year, the EU launched a social protection programme combining budget support and technical assistance to help reduce poverty and malnutrition among poor and vulnerable Bangladeshis. Among other things, it has focused on designing a comprehensive national Child Benefit Programme that has linkages to health – taking account of new risks and vulnerabilities for children stemming from the health and socio-economic crisis.
Munni Bai (not her real name) is a new mother who is set to benefit from the national Child Benefit Programme. Munni Bai gave birth to a daughter in August 2019. She is delighted with her monthly maternity allowance of 800 Bangladeshi taka (about €9), which she is entitled to receive for 36 months. She applied for the allowance after hearing about it at a courtyard meeting.
Like most women in Bangladesh, Munni Bai delivered her baby at home, with no specialised medical help from the community clinic or health workers. In fact, she had never been for a formal check-up at any clinic or hospital. Nor had she been able to get a birth certificate for her daughter. Many women in Bangladesh have had to cope with similar challenges.
The EU’s technical assistance is seeking a comprehensive solution to these challenges. The Child Benefit Programme, for instance, will offer deprived mothers like Munni Bai a range of services for them and their children, from pregnancy to kindergarten. From their first contact with family welfare assistants onwards, their details will be kept in a database. Various agencies will then have access to the database, so that they can offer the women health-related services and advice, training in life skills and hygiene, checks on their children’s cognitive development and more besides. The database will be integrated with the G2P payment system and will also be used to register births within 45 days, free of charge.
All in all, EU budget support and technical assistance are helping Bangladesh move towards a more effective and comprehensive social security system that meets the needs of Bangladeshis throughout their lives, with a priority focus on the poorest and most vulnerable.