Mrs. Man (right) learns from Viettel Pay staff how to use e-payment technology on her phone to receive Government’s Social Assistance package for COVID-19

In a poor home in Nam Dinh province, rays of sunlight pierce through holes of a sagged old roof. Mrs. Vu Thi Man lives in this house with her husband and their two children. Mrs. Man, 56 years old, is the sole breadwinner of the family. No one else is able to earn an income. Her husband has been paralyzed for nearly 20 years due to a work accident. Her two children were born healthy, but following severe fevers, they both were diagnosed with cerebral palsy before they reached the age of 3.

Mrs. Man manages most of the family’s life by herself, supported by the income from 2 hectares of paddy fields and a monthly disability living allowance of VND 1,830,000 (or US$78) from the government, for her husband and two children. She is occasionally hired for temporary work, but it is becoming more and more difficult for her to find these types of jobs as they are replaced by machines.

Mrs. Man looks forward to the day she receives the monthly cash transfer from the government. On the 9th of every month, she rides her bicycle to the commune center (around 4 km away from home) as early as 6 AM to queue up to receive this payment. However, it often takes her 4 hours to receive the money due to the big crowd at the center, waiting for the cash transfer just like her.

Timely social protection payments could have reduced poverty

COVID-19 made Mrs. Man’s situation even worse. There were no jobs during the strict social-distancing period, and the little means the family had were exhausted.

A rapid impact assessment by the Viet Nam Academy of Social Science in collaboration with UNDP and UN Women, estimated that the pre-pandemic national poverty rate of 4.6% may have jumped to 26.7% in April 2020. With the lift of the social distancing measures, transient income poverty reduced to 15.8% in May 2020. However, the least improvements were observed among informal worker, ethnic minority and women-headed households. Timely social protection payments could have significantly reduced the impact on poverty.

Mrs. Man, her husband and children were amongst 20 million people eligible to benefit from the Government’s social protection support to people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the intended results of preventing vulnerable people from falling into poverty and protecting those already poor from descending deeper into poverty, the Government’s social protection support policy however faced several issues in its design and implementation. Managing and delivering social protection services proved to be difficult in many locations, especially during the social distancing period. 

Mrs. Man receives confirmation message and further instructions from Viettel Pay on her mobile phone on how to withdraw her cash transfer for the COVID-19 social protection package.

Testing and fast-tracking e-payment 

A swift disbursement of social protection packages is key to supporting vulnerable people like Mrs. Man. UNDP is therefore working with the Ministry of Labor – Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) in various locations to test and fast-track e-payment and other digital solutions. 

Mrs. Man was very glad to hear about the Government’s COVID-19 social protection package. When a commune official came to check her ID card and complete some paperwork, she was told that she could receive payments from any e-pay device, instead of having to travel to the commune center. 

A week later, the commune official returned with representatives from Viettel Pay and UNDP, who showed her how to download an e-payment application to her phone. After some installation steps and texting on her phone, she received a confirmation message and VND 4,500,000 (or US$193), the amount her family is entitled to under the Government’s COVID-19 social protection package for three months – April, May and June.

She was also provided with a card that has a number to withdraw money at any cash withdrawal points nearby. She can therefore receive the total amount of cash safely and quickly at any given time, without any extra costs. Now, she does not have to make the long ride and queue at the commune center. She will have more time to take care of her family. Moreover, with e-payment method, she can avoid the risks of disease spread. Mrs. Man feels much happier and safer now.

Knowing that this method was just introduced and still at the pilot stage, Mrs. Man is hoping the program will be expanded so many other people like her can benefit and build forward better after the pandemic.

Beside accelerating the e-payment, UNDP has also helped with the e-reporting of the Government’s social protection support, laid out the foundation for digitalizing the regular social assistance services and built an integrated social protection database. This is part of a Joint SDG Fund initiative by UNDP, ILO, UNFPA and UNICEF in Viet Nam, that aims at accelerating Viet Nam’s transition toward inclusive and integrated social protection.

Checking the e-payment application on smartphone to receive Government’s assistance subsidy

An appreciation of this story editors goes to UN Communication Officer Yoomi Jun, UNDP SDG Programme Specialist Mac Albert Gordon Shaw, and UNDP Communication Officer Nguyen Viet Lan.

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