Written by Ugo Gentilini.

Let’s begin by getting clarity on a contentious question: what’s effect of social protection on informal sector workers? A review by Ghorpade et al unbundles the quandary around three main dimensions – namely formalization, worker protection and productivity enhancement – and examines the effects of different interventions as emerging from 222 materials. Main takeaways? Workforce formalization is “best achieved through macroeconomic and firm-level policies and through the extension of social insurance programs”; protection is “best enhanced through social insurance, social assistance, economic inclusion, and health benefits programs”; and productivity “can be enhanced through social assistance and economic inclusion programs, and the provision of childcare services”. Activation measures – like job search assistance and vocational training – don’t seem to yield improvements on labor productivity among the informally employed (see also the insightful discussion on choosing interventions by degrees of formality “resemblance”, p.62-63).

Two sobering cash transfer papers from Africa. One comes from Niger: an article by Premand and Rohner finds that the provision of cash transfers can be a magnet for attacks by actors from outside recipient villages, especially foreign groups (such as Boko Haram incursions from Nigeria). While severe conflict events remained rare and temporary, the likelihood of a conflict occurring within 10 km of the village rose by 1.68 percentage points (see column 4 in table 1, p.145).

The other piece examines Tanzania and Uganda: Nystrand et al document that the state exerts different degrees of control over “non-state”, NGOs-provided cash transfers, but in both cases transfers are used politically to maintain political relations with key constituencies (see figure 2 plotting distributional logics under different non-state provisions models). Bonus: a study on Tanzania by Mwaijande and Mwakalikamo indicates a positive relationship between the flagship Productive Social Safety Net and poverty reduction.

Let us take a long-term view: Laguinge et al estimate that Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer beneficiaries in 2006 displayed a number of outcomes 8 years later: the program increased years of schooling (0.8 years), monthly labor income (about $250) and, interestingly, past participation reduced probability of being a future beneficiary – that is, the program offered a pathway toward productive labor market entry.

Going further back in time, Aizer et al examine data for 16,000 women who participated in the “mothers’ pension” program in the US between 1911 and 1930. By tracking events over women’s lives, the analysis found that transfers delayed marriage (by 14 months), while they did not impact fertility nor affect longevity (h/t Nithin Umapathi).

More from high income settings: an article by Aspachs et al et al documents during recent spikes in inflation, Spain provided a one-off cash transfer of €200 to low-income households. Payments were made by direct deposit and delivered in two waves – first to residents with earnings below €14,000 (and wealth below about €43,000), followed by a wave targeted to individuals with income and wealth about double those levels (below €27,000 and €75,000, respectively). Were transfers spent by recipients? The average marginal propensity to spend cash transfers was about 30% (roughly in line with COVID-times elasticities).

News from Asia? Hashemi and de Montesquiou explore how BRAC’s “targeting the ultrapoor” graduation program spread worldwide. They argue that “[w]hat was inherent in the BRAC approach was a refusal to accept development wisdom as given [while understanding] the structures of rural power and their interconnectedness that created and reproduced extreme poverty”. What’s next for the approach? In a nutshell, the agenda is both economic and political, i.e., to organize people for power via the creation of federated structures of women’s groups for collective action.

Financing! A blog by Knowles illustrates how select countries are leveraging social protection for channeling climate finance to small-scale farmers – e.g., Paraguay (which “incentivises poor women and Indigenous Peoples to adopt sustainable agroforestry practices”), Botswana (to “upskill male and female small-scale farmers so that they can be employed as eco-rangers and restoration workers”) and Tunisia (via “intensive support package combining sustainable agricultural practices, climate-proofed off-farm income generation and in-kind grants”).

Let’s explore the intersection between financing and social justice with some startling facts from Oxfam’s inequality flagship: penned by Riddell et al, the report shows that about 1.6% of the payouts (dividends and shareholder buybacks) received by the top 10% of the global income distribution would be sufficient to eliminate extreme poverty ($2.15/day); 35% of global corporate profits, or a trillion dollars, were shifted to tax havens in 2022; and only 0.4% of the 1,600 largest companies worldwide are committed to paying workers a living wage – and 0.7% of them met a global bar for collective bargaining – hence further fomenting informality and precarity.

Moving to humanitarian issues, a new UNICEF brief shows that only 57% of humanitarian appeals in 2022 ($51.7 billion) were met, so how to close humanitarian funding gaps? Among the options (and necessary shifts), the analysis shows that ODA regional and country allocations could better reflect needs; a shift towards preparedness would be desirable, with currently over 90% of aid going to emergency response; more sustainable approaches are needed, since “countries most at risk are running high spending deficits, leading to rising levels of debt in many countries experiencing humanitarian crises” (p.37); donors could consider integrating humanitarian and development funding (a la Switzerland, p.40); and a wider use of local actors could result in efficiency gains by about one-third (p.41).

BTW, a report by Tindall assess the accountability of humanitarian assistance in Somalia … beyond beneficiary “feedback”: his analysis points to “the significant power imbalances between international and national actors (both government and civil society) in terms of financial capacity and financing relationships, organisational interests and the incentives underpinning programming cycles, and relative decision-making power and influence”.

But hey, it’s not always that grim… for example, a report by Ground Truth mapping users’ journey to access cash transfers in Ukraine shows that local actors play a key role – check out p.11, where municipalities call beneficiaries’ to register for humanitarian cash assistance, or local council representatives share information through Viber, and announcements at city councils are made about assistance. Bonus: local leadership is what it took to make a cash distribution breakthrough in Sudan, according to Elgieli et al. Bonus on top of bonus: Sudan is the focus of Carter’s new work on conflict-sensitive social protection (h/t Bart Edes).

To conclude… how can learning outcomes be improved? A blog by Evans rapidly tracks past and current findings from meta-analyses – as well as providing a positive reading of the massive about of information now available from impact evaluations. And check out a couple of upcoming events, including on Deepening Social Protection Systems: Enhancing livelihoods and health in Ethiopia (April 17) and on Piloting Nationwide Integrated Social Protection MIS: Challenges and Lessons Learned from Barbados (April 25).

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
    • Subsidies
      • Price subsidies
        • Agricultural input subsidies
    • Social care services
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Job training
      • Productive / economic inclusion programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Expenditure and financing
    • Laws and Policies
  • Programme implementation
    • Enrolment / registration
  • Programme performance / impact analysis
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Programme graduation
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Agriculture and rural development
  • Climate change
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Inequalities
  • Labour market / employment
    • Informality
  • Poverty reduction
  • Productive / Economic inclusion
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's