Let’s begin with a simple and central question that underpins most of our work these days: did social protection reduce the spread of Covid-19? Until now we had supportive anecdotal evidence, but from this week the question is backed by robust statistical analysis: Aminjonov et al show that in 43 low- and middle-income countries, the poorest areas are most affected by the pandemic because people kept working for survival. In fact, by examining data between Feb-Sept 2020 they find that a standard deviation difference in poverty leads to +25% Covid cases. With cash transfers, however, the rate of Covid spread is more than halved, leading to only an 11% increase. How so? By offering income support that made it less costly for workers to stay home.
But can cash transfers be used as an incentive to increase vaccination rates? A new Science article by Campos-Mercade et al shows that in Sweden, a modest payment of $24 increased vaccination rates by 4.2 percentage points (from a baseline rate of 71.6%). Information “nudges”, instead, only rose the “intent” to get vaccinated but not the rate in practice (h/t Mohamed Almenfi). Bonus: Narayan et al argue that the pandemic “… has underscored the need for building an effective and equitable public health system, investing in safety nets and social insurance, and instituting fiscal policy that raises resources fairly and efficiently to finance investments”.
There is even more explicit evidence that cash transfers save lives! Ramos et al show that in the poorest municipalities of Brazil, participating in Bolsa conditional cash transfers reduces the odds of mortality among children aged 1-4 years by 28%. The effect was stronger for preterm children, children of Black mothers, and those living in municipalities with better Bolsa management (including CadUnico administration).
But that’s not all… lives can also be saved at birth: a review of 6 studies by Leroy et al finds that cash transfers can reduce mortality at birth between 0.6 and 3.1 cases every 1000 births. Transfers can also improve children’s weight at birth, with gains ranging from 31 to 578g.
Economic stimulus! Japan is one of the 11 countries that implemented a temporary universal cash transfer for its entire population: rotted in monetary policy, what was the economic effect of such program? Hattori et al estimate that the cash injection of 12T yen (or about $107B) increased consumption by nearly 10%, or 1.32T yen (see also the authors’ blog here).
Another big, recurrent and under-researched economic quandary: how should cash transfers be managed in contexts of inflation? And what about hyperinflation, deflation, currency depreciation and devaluation? A great review by CaLP et al tackles the issue with an array of practical examples across the 3 steps of contextual assessment, preparatory actions, and programmatic analysis. For instance, I really liked the discussion on providing assistance in USD instead of local currencies in Syria, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela (p.20, 23, and 40 respectively); the related “buffer amount” built into Syrian transfers (p.21); the triggers for pegging transfers to inflation in Somalia (when prices rise by 10%, p.24); how liquidity crises in Sudan and Zimbabwe led to shifts towards inkind food and vouchers (p.31 and p.42); and examples of humanitarian agencies negotiating for preferential exchange rates in Yemen and South Sudan (p.32).
Since I mentioned food… how can progress in food systems be monitored? Check out the recent paper by Fanzo et al proposing a 5-pillar food systems transformation framework including diets, nutrition, and health; environment and climate; livelihoods, poverty, and equity; governance; and resilience and sustainability.
More on sustainability: Koch lays out ideas on how welfare states could be sustainably enhanced without growth, including discussing maximum and basic income, taxes on wealth and meat, as well as working time reductions.
From growth to skills! Rossi has an article on the relative efficiency of skilled labor across countries – two take-aways from his piece: highly educated workers are relatively more productive in rich countries; and this is mostly (~90%) due to rich countries’ production being more skill-biased, as opposed to gaps in relative human capital (~10%).
Let’s turn to “fragility”, with an education lens: does empathy work? “EmpaTeach” is an intervention using empathy-building exercises and group work to equip teachers with self-regulation, alternative discipline techniques, and classroom management strategies. Fabbri et al test whether EmpaTeach could reduce physical violence from teachers to students in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Tanzania. What did they find? Prevalence of past-week violence at midline was not statistically different, nor did they detect differences on secondary outcomes.
Any regional/country news? Lavinas reflects on Latin America being “at the crossroads yet again” and lays out ideas for social protection in the post-pandemic era, including thoughts on UBI, basic services and decommodification (h/t Francesca Bastagli). In the US, Hammond lays out 5 reasons for not adding work requirements to child tax credits in the US: child benefits have negligible unintended labor supply effects; they reduce dependency and inequality; people work already; work requirements entail significant bureaucracy; and earnings phase-in can wind up amplifying income shocks if and when they occur (h/t Martin Ravallion). Bonus: a news piece argues that in the UK, cutting the universal credit it will leave families with impossible decisions.
Finally, enough with reading and would rather watch/listen? A symposium was recently held in honor of John Hills as part of the Social Policy Association conference with interventions from Bastagli, Suh, Baumberg Geiger, and Burchardt; and podcast with Obeng and Brunnschweile discuss fiscal decentralization in Ghana and warn of the risks when local governments are too dependent on the central government.
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 helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.