Lessons for Social Protection from COVID-19 Lockdowns


In this panel we seek to use COVID-19 and its attendant lockdowns in India as a crucial moment of flux to assess social protection. Policy and scholarship both recognise that social protection plays an important role in alleviating poverty, improving standards of living, mitigating risks and shocks, and reducing episodes of financial adversities (Conway & Norton, 2002). We understand social protection as ‘all public and private initiatives that provide income or consumption transfers to the poor, protect the vulnerable against livelihood risks and enhance the social status and rights of the marginalized; with the overall objective of reducing the economic and social vulnerability of poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups’ (Devereux & Sabates-Wheeler, 2004). Given our focus on relief measures, we are particularly interested in the protective aspect of social protection. We ask three inter-related questions: First, what do the immediate relief measures put into place to cope with the impact of COVID-19 and the lockdowns tell us about the current state of social protection systems? Second, how did these measures effectively target and deliver relief in complex and constrained situations such as the lockdowns? Third, going forward, what lessons does this set of immediate relief measures offer not just for medium-term recovery but for designing, building and improving social protection systems?