Let me start with the joint life-saving effects of two programs: a Lancet article by Aransiola et al evaluated the long-run, combined effects of social pensions (BPC) and Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfers (BF) on child mortality in Brazil. Based on data from nearly 2,500 municipalities over fifteen years, 2004-2019, they found that both programs were effective, with the mortality-reducing effects of BF being higher among children under-1 and BPC’s being more prevalent among those aged 1-4 years old. Coverage mattered: for example, BF had no effect in municipalities with the lowest coverage and poverty rates, but had the highest impact where coverage expanded the most. Both Pending on future scenarios, the programs could in tandem avert between 87,808–148,736 under-five deaths by 2030. (BTW, in case wondering… yes, I featured an earlier version of the paper in past links editions).
More from LAC: what limits the effects of cash transfers on poverty and inequality? To address the question, a brilliant review by Stampini et al examines programs in 17 countries across the region. Their answer boils down to two core parameters: inadequate transfer size (in 2019, the median value of transfers was 32% of the poverty gap); and limited coverage of people living in poverty (only 55% of them received transfers). Among the many suggestions to enhance under-coverage, let me just flag the Costa Rica example, where satellite images were used to identify pockets of urban poverty aided by additional fieldwork (see figure 5, p.26).
Mmmh… what about coverage-adequacy trade-offs? Based on interviews with beneficiaries in Somalia, Ibrahim show that the majority (60%) would prefer receiving transfers for less in amount but for longer durations, versus 21% who preferred more generous assistance for shorter periods. (Check out the link to the Cash Barometer there!)
Since we are in Africa… Holmemo et al offer a range of insightful reflections on social assistance in the region. Among them, it was noted that rise of cash transfers in the region coexists with lingering doubts about their productive effects. Such misunderstandings, it is argued, limit their “transformational potential” and call for “stepped-up communications”.
News from MENA? Carter and Harvey have a super-rich literature review on social assistance in Yemen. So much to explore here… see for example the timeline of key social protection events (box 3.1, p.9); or the discussion on financing, where it’s shown that only 5% of ODA ($192M) went for social protection in 2021 – although it increased ten times in absolute terms since 2015 among official donors, DAC and multilaterals, but shrank by an equal amount in the UN (see table 3.1, p.16). Figure 3.6 is also fascinating in comparing WFP and World Bank social assistance approaches (p.17). In general, the review highlights “… an odd duality where international actors are simultaneously attempting to build the capacity of some parts of the state to deliver aid while trying to resist efforts by other parts of the state to influence how aid is delivered”. Key implication? Technical capabilities of the Social Fund for Development are being strengthened, while a misalignment on transfer values and targeting between programs in the North and South of the country may persist.
But hey, is resilience just about low- and middle-income countries? Absolutely not: a paper by Rao and Enelamah assesses the resilience of households in the United States, including scoring them 5.01 out of a nine-item preparedness scale. Social protection programs can generate, the authors show, a “shock absorber effect”: similarly to my comments on last week’s paper on Ethiopia, also in this case it’s evident that people in receipt of assistance score less than non-beneficiaries on the preparedness scale: while it may signal effective targeting, it may also entail scope for better design!
Human capital! What do policymakers in East Asia and Pacific region think about education? Yarrow et al interviewed 651 officials from ministries of education and finance, as well as members of parliaments, in 14 EAP middle income countries. A range of findings emerge: for instance, EAP policy makers underestimate the contribution of poverty and malnutrition to low levels of learning (figure 4, p.8). This is also reflected in the low priority assigned to poverty-related transfer programs. In fact, respondents were asked which intervention they would select for implementation (cost and timeline were provided separately), including: (i) giving teachers reading lesson plans with linked materials and training; (ii) in-service training for teachers; (iii) delivering universal school meals (for lunch); (iv) removing fees for secondary school; (v) laptops for schools; (vi) hiring extra specialist teachers for students with disabilities; and (vii) building hospitals. The only statistically different program between EAP and non-EAP countries is school meals (figure 5, p.9): on average, school feeding is selected by 40% of EAP respondents compared to 51% of their peers elsewhere (see table 3, p.33).
Let’s stay in East Asia and explore the social protection-migration nexus: a paper by Li et al exploits a 2015 reform in rural China whereby county officials, who were outsiders to the villages, were appointed to work full-time as “village supervisors” (as opposed to local elected village leaders who largely managed social protection provision). In those treated villages, the paper found that social insurance increased the migration rate by over 18% among households’ young males and by 59% for females (see figure 4, p.22 showing a clear discontinuity at the village border between treated vs control villages). In turn, this led to a large boost in the average household’s income by about 36% (see p.27). What’s interesting is also the discussion on mechanisms, that is, the paper points to the significance of non-monetary costs, such as risks, in mobility decision-making (and not only liquidity constraints).
Bonus on EAP: how mush informal is Indonesia’s economy? If self-employment is the proxy, then that’s about 53.4% of total employment in 2020 according to a paper by Hapsari et al.
Final fireworks: people’s stories from South Sudan’s safety net project are collected in a spectacular photobook; STAAR has a great evidence digest on disaster risk financing and anticipatory action; and De Schutter will give a lecture on “wellbeing without growth”