Published on January 27, 2021

Assessing Barbados’ Social Protection Response within the context of the COVID19 Pandemic

The Government of Barbados has indicated that as a result of the pandemic, around 6,000 people were laid off for approximately 22 weeks in the tourism sector – a key employer - and the NIS recorded more than 68,000 claims from 35,000 individuals. (1)

As a component of the Joint Programme Universal Adaptive Social Protection to Enhance Resilience and Acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals in the Eastern Caribbean, and in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) undertook a gender responsive assessment of the social protection system in Barbados. The assessment focused specifically on the response to COVID-19 to inform an implementation plan for a gender-responsive and adaptive social protection response to the pandemic. This article presents a summary of components of this report, which is pending finalization and review by national partners.

The Government, in recognizing the impact of the pandemic on its economy, people, and the systems in place to protect those the vulnerable; sought to identify and analyse the gaps in their social protection system while also seeking to ensure that this system could become shock and gender responsive. Given UNDPs objectives under the Joint Programme to facilitate a deeper analysis of poverty and disaster risk, supporting an assessment of impacts on the social protection system in Barbados was fully in line with these objectives. In undertaking this assessment, UNDP utilized a desk-based review of various documentation in order to understand Barbados’ macroeconomic, fiscal and social protection context as well as actions taken in relation to COVID19 impacts. This was supplemented by nine in-depth interviews with state and non-state actors such as the: Welfare Board, Bureau of Gender Affairs, National Disabilities Unit, National Assistance Board, the Salvation Army and the National Organization of Women. (2)

The Government responded to the emergency with a series of new and up-scaled interventions. The social assistance component represented 42% of total measures or 11 interventions. Social insurance interventions (15% or 4 interventions) although more limited in number, introduced unemployment benefits, which played a critical role. Labour market interventions were 8 representing 31%. Finally, social care services (12% and 3 interventions) were targeted to the most vulnerable during the crisis such as the elderly, the homeless and persons who are victims of violence, including women and girls.

The assessment revealed that none of the social protection measures introduced in response to COVID-19 targeted only females, and of the interventions introduced, none specifically accounted for the vulnerability of women and girls, or either men or boys. Approximately half of the interventions were targeted to vulnerable people, meaning poor individuals or households and the elderly, without any gender consideration. Two identified measures - the virtual court and the helpline targeting vulnerable people - referred to women and to the need for providing a service to female victims of violence during the pandemic. However, there were no dedicated measures or services for women victims of violence. The remaining interventions were global, in that they targeted vulnerable persons generally.

An example of an intervention made in support of a key sector - the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) Programme was developed and sought to re-engage workers in tourism, reducing demand for severance (3) which integrated an array of social protection measures implemented in the aftermath of the pandemic. A database of the social protection responses to COVID-19 in Barbados was created through the triangulation of data from different sources.

The social protection system has been vital to supporting the population during the pandemic. The Government promptly introduced emergency measures such as cash and in-kind transfers and vouchers to buy food. The social protection response has been large and articulated including social assistance and social insurance measures as well as social services for the most vulnerable and active and passive labour market policies. The analysis undertaken by UNDP - inclusive of an evaluation of the response, recommendations and an implementation plan - will be submitted to the Government of Barbados in January 2021 for review and in consideration of the further development of a gender-responsive and shock responsive social protection system.


(1) Barbadian Ministry of Tourism and International Transport (2020). Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation Programme. Employee Guide. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from

(2) UNDP, UNICEF and UN Women Eastern Caribbean (2020). Barbados: COVID-19 Macroeconomic and Human Impact Assessment Data. Retrieved on November 28 from

(3) Central Bank of Barbados (2020). Review of Barbados' Economic Performance. January to September 2020.