The current Ukrainian crisis has shown the importance of social aid and assistance to relieve and protect the refugee population. In this context, governments, international organizations, NGOs, and local authorities can use social vouchers to implement an efficient social assistance. Such solutions are more and more used to address poverty and/or to deploy development and humanitarian policies worldwide. Social vouchers dispense adequate response to specific needs of targeted populations and have proven to be highly efficient in time of crisis. They have also been acknowledged as official tool to deliver the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) which can be used by Member States to welcome refugees.
Over 6 million people crossed EU borders since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, posing new challenges to neighbouring countries. The European Institutions quickly provided measures to support countries welcoming the refugee population. The newly adopted Cohesion’s Action for Refugees in Europe (CARE) provides the Member States with the possibility to use remaining funds from cohesion funds of the 2014-2020 programming period to provide emergency support to refugees. This includes investments in education, employment, housing, health and childcare services, but also on basic material assistance like food and clothing. Therefore, different sources of funding are available to Member States to respond to the refugee crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The EU has enhanced its response capacity and has made these funds more accessible and flexible (with the possibility of 100% EU financing notably).
Among these funds, the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) is designed to provide food and/or basic material assistance to the most deprived. The European Institutions recognize the support that social vouchers’ programmes can bring to deliver efficiently the FEAD. Therefore, as from April 2020, some changes were brought to the FEAD distribution modalities to ensure the possibility to deliver food and basic material assistance through social vouchers.
Whether in paper or digital form, Social Vouchers are benefits, most often, regulated by law and supported by specific public policies and fiscal frameworks to give access to specific goods or services in designated networks of providers and institutions. Social Vouchers can be used at national or local level and have the advantages of cash, in that they are flexible and ensure beneficiaries’ dignity (this helps to drive financial and social inclusion, and minimising the impact of disruption to recipients’ lives), whilst also providing the transparency and traceability of in-kind benefits that public authorities require.
Furthermore, in several countries, social vouchers have already played a critically important role in deploying aid and supporting refugees. In 2014 and 2016 respectively, Ticket Services for Refugees were created in Turkey and Greece to help and support Syrian refugees. The rapid implementation of food and hygiene access programmes was possible thanks to existing networks of affiliated merchants. The system was used by local public authorities and NGOs to deliver aid to 32,000 families, with around 160,000 estimated beneficiaries. Due to its adaptability, the same programme was replicated and rolled-out in Greece through another “ready-to-use” voucher network.
Social vouchers have also been deployed in multiple EU Member States to support those most in need over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Principally, governments, distributing authorities, local vendors and recipients have benefited from improved access to solutions which target support to specific demographics or geographies, and which can be made available and implemented quickly. Such modalities are obviously also essential while designing solutions for refugee populations. On the one hand, social vouchers can efficiently achieve their main objective and provide immediate person-centred support to refugees. On the other hand, social vouchers bring long-term benefits and provide an economic boost to several economic sectors.