A new flagship discusses cash transfers in the toughest settings possible: penned by Obrecht et al, ALNAP’s “state of the humanitarian system 2022” offers an incredibly rich analysis peppered with plenty of facts and experiences. For example, it shows that global humanitarian funding for cash-based interventions is conservatively estimated at $6.7 billion in 2021 ($5.3 billion of which transferred to recipients), an increase of 44% from 2018 (71% is cash, 29% vouchers). However, the share of cash out of total humanitarian assistance remained stable or about one-fifth. In terms of cost-efficiency, estimates from 23 programs shows that it costs between $0.2 to $3.5 to delivery $1 of cash, with economies of scale somewhat occurring after programs reach around 1,000 households (see graph above and p.254). And unfortunately, the share of funding going to domestic actors is only 1.2% in 2021 (p.230) (BTW, if you wonder about challenges of coordination, see figure 18 (p.74) mapping the 23 actors involved in assisting communities in humanitarian settings).

Moving to high income settings, here are two big papers on cash in the US: in one study, Gennetian et al show that cash transfers allow mothers to spend more income on children and allocate more time for their learning (+10%)… and without work disruptions. And another paper by Barr et al estimates that where cash is provided during infancy, it raises young adult earnings by at least 1-2%: “… [t]he longer-term effects on child earnings alone are large enough that the transfer pays for itself”.

Let’s hop to the other side of the Atlantic: the European Commission has a report edited by Noguera et al on two universal cash transfer measures. The paper, titled “Real Utopias for a Social Europe: Universal Benefits”, stems from a recent event held in June and discusses a “universal inheritance” – or a “basic capital” consisting of a one-off universal capital grant paid at a set age to all individuals – and a more classic universal basic income. Check out also the event’s video recordings, including sessions of June 8 and June 9 (each of about 3.5 hours).

BTW, one of the entry points in UBI debates are the real or perceived deficits in current social protection systems. But a concrete signal of those challenges – or sort of canary in a coal mine – might be coverage informal, private, or quasi-formal systems like food banks or pantries. In this regard, a 10-country review by Byrne and Just sheds new light on how those systems are managed and the profile of beneficiaries. It is hard to estimate the annual number of users given different reporting procedures, but table 1 gives some indication that food banks are quite extensive – e.g., they cover 1.3 million in South Korea, 1.6 million people in Germany, 2.1 million in France, and 3.2 million in Australia.

News from Africa? In Ghana, a study by Karlan et al found that cash during Covid increased income by 20%, and such effect persisted 8 months after the last transfer — but other welfare effects dissipated by then. And in Tanzania, Prencipe et al assessed the impacts of Tanzania’s adolescent-focused Cash Plus intervention on depression among youth aged 14–19 years. After 12 months from the intervention, the program (which involved a grant distribution, training of health-care providers, and at least 9 months of mentoring) reduced the odds of having depressive symptomatology by 33% (h/t Amber Peterman).

If you read Spanish, a report on school feeding in Colombia during the pandemic underscores the importance of such program during crises and beyond: authored by the UAPA and the World Bank, it shows that 5.6 million children were assisted and 72,000 did not leave school during the pandemic because of the program (h/t Carmen Burbano).

And what about Asia? A paper Patwardhana and Tasciotti address the thorny issue of the relationship between cash and debt. Their study on NREGA public works reveals that the scheme reduced the size of outstanding debts among vulnerable people participating for 2 years as compared to those exposed to the intervention only one year. And Kidd and Mansoor argue that Sri Lanka should consider a $1 billion package of categorical transfers, including providing cash to every child aged 0-17 years, all persons with disabilities aged 0-59 years, and seniors aged 60 years and above.

Finally, Ravallion explains why growth elasticities of poverty reduction can, in practice, be significantly lower than suggested by Kakwani’s elasticities – and how the latter can systematically vary over time and place. And hey, I really look forward to read “Sticky Power”, the new open-access book by Haberly and Wojcik covering so much ground on global cash and financial issues.


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. 

To sign up to the newsletter or share materials, you can contact Ugo by email ([email protected]), Twitter (@ugentilini) or LinkedIn.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Cash plus
        • Unconditional cash transfers
        • Universal Basic Income
      • In kind transfers
        • School feeding programmes
        • Voucher
    • Tax credits / exemptions
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Public works programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Governance and coordination
  • Programme design
  • Programme performance / impact analysis
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Child-sensitive social protection
  • Digital social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Agriculture and rural development
  • Consumption and expenditure
  • Education
  • Emergency response and Disaster Risk Management
    • Humanitarian assistance
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Health
    • COVID-19
    • Other diseases
  • Inclusive growth
  • Income inequality
  • Poverty reduction
  • Resilience
  • Ghana
  • Tanzania
  • Colombia
  • United States
  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Global
  • Europe & Central Asia
  • Latin America & Caribbean
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's