Let me begin with an important paper on the unintended negative effects of cash transfers. A study by Mora et al examines Ecuador’s Bono Desarollo between 2008 and 2014, and finds that the combined effects of people’s uncertainty on eligibility criteria, substantial increases in benefit size, and a preference for short-term cash created perverse incentives to remain poor. Indeed, eligible households show a lower welfare index in 2014 compared to non-eligible households (except for beneficiaries in the Amazon region). In the words of one of the co-authors, “beneficiaries are trapped in their low asset levels as they anticipate the next assessment”. The uncertainty about exiting the program seems to play a key role: in fact, the unintended effects are not observed under a particular component of the program, the old age social pension, intended for people 66 or older. Lots of food-for-thought here.
Other news from LAC? It may not be operational anymore, but research on it never stops: a JM paper by Figueiredo finds that, contrary to earlier findings, after 5 years of participation in Mexico’s conditional cash transfers girls’ probability of marriage soared by 7 percentage points. Haldane et al compare Covid responses in Uruguay vs the rest of the region – many intersting findings, some of which “underscore the challenges in mounting and sustaining pandemic responses over time”. And using a lifecycle model, Finamor illustrates the complementarities between pensions and unemployment insurance in Chile: “when individuals have access to UI to insure themselves in the short run, they are more likely to invest in pensions. In counterfactual simulations, (…) pension design affects formality decisions”.
So much on Africa this week! Alik-Lagrange et al provide experimental evidence on the Londö public works program in the Central African Republic. After up to 18 months from the intervention (which provides lottery-based participation at $3/day over a 40-day period), Londö boosted monthly earnings by about 10% and slightly increased wage employment (when looked over the past 30 days, such increase was by about half a day). BTW, the program also provided a bicycle to beneficiaries to get to worksites: the paper finds some, although limited, evidence on increased mobility and work outside the home by men.
A hat-trick of resources on Kenya: Matata et al show that under the HSNP (reaching 60k households), food expenditure increased and diets were diversified in favor of some high-value foods (including proteins). In Wajir County, Mohamed and Moi estimate that the Older People Cash Transfer Program increased consumption, but benefit size was too modest ($16/month) for enhancing farming and food storage activities. And in reviewing basic income pilots in Kenya, India and Namibia, Majozi concludes that they are “… not the panacea and should be accompanied by additional interventions to transform the structure of the economy”. Bonus: a global review by Kim and Ahn finds that UBI pilots have positive micro level effects, but “any meaningful macro-level impact was impossible to confirm”.
From a trio to another one, this time on Zimbabwe! A paper by Kapingidza argues that the development of the National Social Protection Policy Framework needs to be understood as “political contestation, not as a mere technical process” – that is, various players were “driven by a different ideological position that it would “push” to prevail over other players’ interests. While external agencies’ push for the policy prevailed, the “success” came at the cost of little national ownership that made its implementation uncertain”. An article by Matutu and Botchway proposes an alternative framework, dubbed “Prioritised and Targeted Social Protection framework (PTSP)”, geared to addressing the special needs of elderly people. And Chevo explores the positive and negative roles of kinship relations in the urban Budiriro neighborhood of Harare.
That’s not all for Africa: an evaluation by Njuga et al examines community-based targeting procedures of Tanzania’s TASAF cash transfers. Among the recommendations, the report argues that “… [p]rogramme coordinators should verify the list of recipients and their names should appear on the village notice board to enhance public accountability”.
Moving to Asia, what were the effects of the pandemic in Japan? A paper by Wakata et al surveys the negative effects among low-income people, some of whom benefited from programs like Public Assistance (‘seikatsu-hogo’), a means-tested scheme reaching about 1.7% of the population.
In the same region, Yuda et al assess pandemic fiscal responses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand – really liked how they tied specific interventions to a broader narrative on social protections systems configurations, including a bulging convergence around a “long-term trajectory of welfare state development and institutionalization” that begun in the late 1990s. And Peng and Yip compare the mental health effects of three different social assistance programs in Hong Kong: the most effective was the CSSA, or “the public assistance scheme that serves as the last resort for those who cannot financially support themselves”.
And guess which country increased spending on cash transfers by 14 times in two years, or from less than 0.1% of GDP to 1.4%? A poverty assessment by Karamba and Tong shows that over 2019-2021, Cambodia scalped up the coverage cash for people in the “IDPoor” registry from 2% to 17% of the population (2.7 million individuals).
Just next door, ILO produced two policy briefs on introducing multi-tiered child benefits in Vietnam (at an initial cost of about 4% of GDP, then halving in ten years, see p. table 1, p.8) as well as on better connecting gender and pension reforms in the country (h/t Ian Orton).
More on children! In China, a study by Wang et al shows that children and adolescent recipients of disability-targeted cash transfers were about 2.3 times more likely to utilize rehabilitation services and 1.3 times more prone to get medical treatment compared to non-beneficiaries.
Were the Iran’s seven social protection responses to COVID-19 child sensitive? And were the ten humanitarian programs in the country designed in such way? A one-pager by Moulana and Sato provides summary recommendations for enhancing child-oriented programming in the country.
Let’s compare the US child poverty over time and space: because of the Child Tax Credit, a paper by Parolin and Filauro shows that the national child poverty rate in 2021 was at its lowest level since (at least) 1967. From 2019 to 2021, the relative US child poverty rate was reduced “… from a level comparable to Bulgaria to a level comparable to Germany. Moreover, the US tax and transfer system progressed from reducing child poverty at a rate comparable to Peru in 2019 to a rate comparable to Norway in 2021”.
Double bonus on the US: Moe et al estimate that for each additional $1,000 of cumulative Earned Income Tax Credit received by a child’s family during childhood (age 0-14 years), the risk of self-reported criminal conviction during adolescence dropped by 11%; and Osuoha contrasts Keynesian and monetarist models for estimating stimulus outcomes of US Covid responses.
Financing! What are the effects of government debt on social protection spending in Central and Eastern Europe? Tashevska et al found “a small, but statistically significant positive effect of government debt to social protection expenditure, in line with the argument of coexistence of rising debt levels and rising social expenditure during recession and confirming their resilience to spending cuts”.
A sobering piece on the UK: Barford and Gray argue that because of prolonged austerity measures, various forms of NGOs “try to fill some of the gaps in the tattered social safety net”, although their concomitant reliance on state funding inhibits their full provision capabilities.
Let’s remain in high income countries with some truly fascinating research: why did Australia not increase its unemployment benefits in 2012, despite advocacy campaigns and a Senate Inquiry? By comparing that episode to three historical antecedents of reform – pensions in 2009, the unemployment benefits of 1943, and the New South Wales Age Pension of 1900 – Scott identifies five reasons for the 2012 non-adjustment: a narrow focus of advocates, not countering incentives and fiscal concerns, limited bargaining and compromising, and weak political influence of people receiving unemployment benefits.
Oh… check this out, also from Australia: when labeling cash transfers as programs intended for “families” and “children”, do rich and poor people differ in their allocation of cash? Mari and Keizer show that poor households invest in children and not in adults, while rich adults don’t devote them for children’s education (but do so to their and kids’ clothes).
On a particular financing model, a crisp paper by Lung explores what disaster risk financing is, and what it isn’t, for adaptive social protection in the Sahel – check out the great concrete examples, like Niger’s Excel tool enabling real-time analysis of the effects of changes in trigger design and scalability parameters, or how Mauritania used a drought model to prioritize communes in which households were added to the National Unified Social Registry.
Let’s take a look at three thought-provoking resources: a dissertation by van Nieuwkuijk questions whether unconditional cash transfers are truly revolutionary or transformative. Examined through the lens of an “aid industry” framework, she argues that “… buzzwords such as effectiveness and recipient empowerment were first used to describe the use of UCTs to alleviate poverty in revolutionary terms. However, when placing UCTs within the theories of aid regimes and policy cycles, it can be argued that UCTs represent continuity, not change”. Using the Social Protection Floor Index, a paper by Oppel “… confirms the dominance of targeted allocations in crisis response, including social assistance, social insurance, and labour market policies”. And a paper by Storm poses and answers a range of questions on the current inflationary environment, e.g., “what, if anything, can we learn from the monetary and fiscal policy experiences and policy mistakes of the 1970s?”
Miscellaneous: the “missing middle” agenda in social protection (or covering those not receiving social assistance or insurance) is mirrored on the demand side of the labor market: a paper by Abreha et al finds a missing-middle in the employment-based size distribution of firms in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, and Rwanda. In India, Mundle returned to Palamu for the first time since his research in the 1970s and found that “provision of highly subsidized or free food grains through the Public Distribution System, the villagers said, is one intervention sustained over the years that has had the maximum impact on their living conditions”.
Learning news! The World Bank just released a great, complimentary e-learning course on how to leverage safety nets to prevent gender-based violence! The course helps “… (i) provide a brief overview of the recent impact evaluation literature on cash transfers and GBV, and (ii) equip the learner with design and implementation tips at different stages of the social protection delivery chain to empower women and amplify the preventive potential of safety net”. BTW, see also the impact pathways or opportunities along the delivery chain. Enroll and enjoy! (h/t Alessandra Heinemann)
Finally, here are two upcoming events from ALNAP – one asking whether humanitarians pay enough attention to learning on the frontline (Dec 8), and another on Pakistan flood responses (Dec 15); GiveDirectly has multiple executive and country director openings (h/t Cristina Sharpe); and if interested in a podcast, yours truly discusses the present and future of cash transfers with Ban Danik.
p.s. the next links edition may be affected by duty travel, so links will be back in a couple of weeks.
Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on socialprotection.org each week, offering knowledge on social protection to help you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.