Globally, the expansion of social assistance is among the most common public policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scale of these programs is unprecedented both in terms of government spending and the share of the population receiving social assistance. The challenge of quickly determining who would be eligible for these transfers highlighted gaps in information about workers in the informal sector and their families and other vulnerable groups. A review of some of these experiences reveals the importance of certain ‘assets’ such as a robust digital identification system and other key registries in areas such as tax and social security. Countries with superior and more inclusive assets in this regard were able to move more quickly than those without them. This may lead governments to expedite the investments required in this infrastructure and better prepare them for future crises. In the meantime, the second wave of responses may have to rely on innovative methods of registration and targeting, using new data sources and leveraging the ubiquity of mobile phones in low and middle-income countries. The challenge in the years that follow will be to find a way to permanently integrate real-time data on the majority of the population that operates in the shadows of the informal sector.

Read More