What do we know about “cash-plus” interventions in challenging contexts? Lind et al conducted a comprehensive review of 42 cash-plus programs in 17 fragile and conflict-affected countries. Informed by the framework illustrated in the above figure, their analysis shows a striking diversity in objectives, coverage, duration, ‘plus’ components, as well as a paucity of evaluative work. The paper also presents an intriguing discussion on “real delivery” occurring via a “… constellation of locally trusted actors”. I liked the framing of implications for “plus” components based on the level of conflict and maturity in social protection systems: where conflict is intense and state-led social assistance is absent, the plus components should be relief-based and adapted for peacebuilding; where conflict is low intensity, but state infrastructure has been destroyed, then recovery alongside relief efforts may dominate. And in settings with nascent state social protection systems and where violence does not impede people’s livelihoods or delivery, then promotive ‘plus’ components become key.

But what happens when conflict erupts in the middle of program implementation? In South Sudan, the 2016 war led to the demise of an unconditional cash grant ($1,000) combined with a business and life skills training. A new study by Budjan et al investigates the diverging fates of participants that got the grant and those that didn’t: the latter displayed a significant reduction in consumption and trust, suggesting psychological repercussions due to program’s cancellation. Also, women became more averse to risk.

An extra couple of resources on Africa: a paper by Christoph suggests that in Kenya, social assistance responses to Covid-19 strengthened social cohesion. And a review by Bernardo makes the case for “anticipatory” unconditional cash transfers in the region’s rural areas.

Let’s discuss incentives: a new paper by Jaimovich et al argues that universal basic income affects labor market participation and demand for insurance. But financing it via progressive taxation mitigates such effects. And a version of UBI that replaces some programs increases both growth and jobs.

And that’s not all on incentives! Two new papers reject the longstanding objection that social assistance discourages work among beneficiaries. One of the papers comes from Poland: Gromadzki analyzes the labor supply effects of introducing a large child benefit with an unconditional component. He found that the program didn’t affect labor market participation and hours worked: “… instead of extending their free time, households receiving the benefit substantially increased their consumption and savings”.

The other paper assesses Mongolia’s food voucher scheme – a program reaching 44,000 households, or about 5% of the population, with transfers delivered by debit cards allowing to purchase 10 types of foods. The monthly transfer ($20/household) covers just 6% of families’ expenditures. A new ADB evaluation the vouchers’ labor market impact found that the scheme “… did not encourage recipients to drop out of the labor market. If anything, it appears to have done the opposite. Evidence of welfare dependency is therefore weak” (see fig 17, p.27). Check out also Schelzig’s accompanying blog.

Speaking of food, Vos et al argue that the current surge in global food prices is largely associated with the recovery in food demand from the pandemic, as well as temporary disruptions in logistics. BTW, FAO’s top brass, including the DG and Chief Economist, underscored the importance of social protection for the pandemic recovery and its role in agrifood systems and tackling inequalities (h/t Alejandro Grinspun).

Final mix! If interested in labor markets, informality, skills, gender, child labor, and migration, the new online book by Lam and Elsayed has all those themes examined in one piece; a great podcast with Casey, Warren and Pantuliano covers the role of blockchain in development aid; CaLP has an upcoming event (March 3) on “Cash and Voucher Assistance within Social Protection Preparedness in Central America, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic”; and J-PAL has a new Social Protection Initiative and sector (h/t Pip O’Keefe).


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
        • Unconditional cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Consumption and expenditure
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Inequalities
  • Labour market / employment
    • Informality
  • South Sudan
  • Mexico
  • Mongolia
  • Poland
  • Global
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's