What do we know about social protection and humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and neighboring countries? We just produced a “living paper” tracking ongoing and planned measures, which yielded an initial count of 96 interventions. A growing number of humanitarian cash transfers are being delivered in Ukraine by several agencies, while some national social protection programs are still present, simplified and provided by the state. In nearby countries, national flagship cash transfer programs, like “500+” in Poland, are being extended to displaced populations. Feedback, suggestions and information on our “living paper” v.1 are most welcome.

From a crisis to another: a great paper by Gronbach et al distills lessons from South Africa’s social protection Covid-19 response. Through various programs, the government covered over 30 million people (see table 1, p11 for an overview). Top-up benefits on existing grants were rolled out efficiently, while new programs, like the Special Relief of Distress program (R350), encountered some initial challenges on payments including because of heavy reliance on manual cash disbursements.

Same theme, different place: how did India’s NREGA employment guarantee work during Covid-19? Narayanan et al unveil a modest performance: the program increased coverage in the poorer districts, but didn’t scale up in those a high proportion of returning migrants. Overall, NREGA provided just 13.5 days of work per rural household.

Triple bonus on crises: a handy cross-country review by Orkin et al found that in crisis times, “… cash grants are high value-for-money and more flexible than most other social welfare programmes”; a paper by Carter summarizes frameworks for analyzing social inequalities in development, humanitarian and peacebuilding arenas; and the high-power Mukherjee-Gelb duo discusses an emerging “digital compassion space”.

But can cash transfers alter family decisions on children’s activities, including work and schooling? To answer the question, we need to move to Latin America: a study by Casco on Ecuador shows that the cash “… attenuates the likelihood of parents choosing market work for their child and increases the likelihood that they may send the child to school or combine child labor with schooling”.

Speaking of labor, Pattaro et al tackle the contentious issue of “sanctions” in unemployment and related benefits. But do these measures work? Their review examines 94 studies and found that most of them “… consistently reported positive impacts for employment but negative impacts for job quality and stability in the longer term, along with increased transitions to non-employment or economic inactivity” (h/t Francesca Bastagli).

Turning the attention to Africa, sometimes cash transfers give you more than expected: a new paper by Pace et al shows that in Zimbabwe, cash transfers meant for basic food security eventually diversified people’s livelihoods. But it takes time: following an initial diversification into survival-led activities, 4 years later such diversification was more firmly connected to development opportunities (h/t Silvio Daidone).

How much is “enough”? Abay et al have an interesting paper assessing the ability of Ethiopia’s PSNP in building household resilience. They found that transfer size matters, and that “… transfers below the median are less likely to generate meaningful improvements in resilience”. But also duration and program complementarities count: “continuous and persistent participation in the PSNP is associated with higher resilience”, and “complementary income generating and asset building initiatives such as HABP are associated with additional improvements in household resilience”.

Finally, there is lots of interest around “linking research and practice” in general, and increasingly so for “embedding experiments into policy”. But what are the perils in doing so? Based on insights from Bihar, Drèze warns that “… [t]he bells are ringing for a fertile marriage of convenience. This does not preclude constructive partnerships, but it does call for some hard thinking about possible safeguards for embedded experiments”.


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. 

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