Let me start with a paper that addresses a fundamental and somewhat underexplored question: what drives differences in views around cash transfers? Based on public opinion data from Kenya, Opalo explored how notions about the causes of poverty, deservingness, and redistribution shape attitudes towards those transfers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, he finds little divergence in perspectives across the political spectrum on the causes of poverty and notions of deservingness. Instead, the core disagreement lies in how to finance programs, i.e., increasing the value added tax or raising taxes on everyone (as opposed to just the wealthy or taxing no one). Such partisan divergence stems from varying levels of trust and perceived legitimacy of the government, which in turns feeds the polarization in cash transfers financing.
Now let’s turn to alternative approaches to social protection: Sudfeld et al conducted a trial of a package of home-visiting health, nutrition and responsive stimulation interventions in Tanzania. Specifically, they evaluate that package alone and in combination with conditional cash transfers (CCTs) to promote antenatal and child clinic attendance. The main result is that the package alone improved child cognitive development and linear growth. Yet its combo with CCTs provides additional benefits on clinic visit attendance and selected child development outcomes.
From Africa to Asia, with new evidence on cash transfers and child labor: in Pakistan, Churchill et al found that the BISP program doesn’t increase work among boys in the short run, but does so for girls. In the medium term, however, labor effects are reduced for both cohorts. In particular, child labor decreased from 9.1% in the baseline survey (2011) to 8.4% in the end-line survey (2016), with working hours (mean) declining from 33.3 to 30.4 hours/week.
More on Asia: Japan’s Covid-19 response included, as documented last week, a universal cash transfer (about $950) to the whole population. Based on high-frequency transaction data for 2.8 million accounts, a new paper by Kubota et al shows that the program generated an immediate jump in spending during the week of payments, followed by moderately elevated levels of spending that persisted for more than one month after payments were received (marginal propensity to consume was 0.31-0.49 after 6 weeks).
Moving to Europe, new evidence on conditional versus unconditional cash transfers (UCTs)… but in an unusual setting: Del Boca et al show that in Italy’s city of Turin, a CCT conditioned on job mentoring courses increased likelihood to work (+14%) relative to a UCT. The effects only occurred among participating fathers, not mothers.
Since I mentioned gender, in Bolivia’s amazon Bauchet et al find no overall differential effects of food transfers on child nutrition when provided to women or men (h/t Amber Peterman). Bonus: Evans has two excellent co-authored articles, one in Science on the effect of early childhood interventions on mothers and one in WBER on effects on girls’ education from interventions that do not focus on girls.
Let’s stay in LAC, where the turmoil in Colombia sparked new thinking on the post-Covid outlook of social protection in the country. One aspect noted by Alvarez-Iglesias et al, for instance, is that the pandemic led the government to re-engage with people previously removed from the Familias CCT due to non-compliance with conditionalities.
The above country case feeds into the broader question of how can social protection strengthen state-citizens relationships. A brilliant review by Alik-Lagrange et al discusses 3 mechanisms, namely ‘redistributive’, ‘contractual’ and ‘reconstitutive’ effects. Focusing on Africa, they argue that program decisions (like in targeting and conditionality) can “sometimes reconfiguring how individuals and communities understand their own subjective identities within a broader political community. The results can be constructive and unifying; however, they can also be disruptive, serving to fracture social cohesion, fragment ideas of citizenship, or create new fissures of access and belonging”.
Speaking of disruption, a brief by Alfers et al explores key issues around older informal workers in pandemic. The authors found that in most low income countries, less than 20% per cent of people aged 60+ have a pension; that older informal workers continued to work during Covid-19 while increasing their debt and eroding assets and savings; and that social pensions helped provide timely income support.
Additional insights on serving seniors: Tilahun Workineh discusses Ethiopia’s social assistance programs and notes that “… although the rural and urban safety nets brought positive developments in terms of coverage or reaching out to the elderly, challenges related to targeting, transfer value and timeliness of payment affect the elderly more than any one of the safety net clients”.
… and indeed urban poverty is back on the agenda! As Satterthwaite and Mitlin mentioned in their blog, “… now is the time to understand what actually constitutes urban poverty so that funding and public services can reach those who need it most”.
All out! I discussed the Maintains initiative and its emerging case studies a few weeks ago; now the full gamut of 18 outputs is out, including country case studies, policy briefs, and select microsimulations for social protection responses and delivery in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and Uganda.
News from the labor and skills corner (h/t Michael Weber)! Vodopivec et al estimate that in Slovenia, unemployed people face increased hazards in cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and mental disorders – as well as of hospitalizations caused by these diseases, with the effects stretching over a 15-year horizon. Dang et al show that Vietnam performed much better than high income countries on the 2012 and 2015 PISA assessments. In Colombia, Rodríguez Chatruc and Rozo found that natives’ attitudes towards Venezuelan vary by age, and that individuals between 18 and 25 years show more altruism.
And on a specific labor institution question, what makes for a good minimum wage setting process, ask Betcherman and Schnitzer? Their piece on Greece (where the last minimum wage adjustment occurred in 2019) underscores that a fair and effective minimum wage would require countries to commit to genuine social dialogue, capacity building, and data development and accessibility.
Two materials on broad development issues in Africa: a lecture in honor of one of my heroes, Thandika Mkandawire, was delivered at LSE by Adesina and reflected on how Covid-19 emphasized the importance of transformative social policy in the continent; tips on what needs to change with international aid in the region? Among the 7 ideas laid out by Mekonnen Melesse is “…the need for humanitarian aid to be directed to helping countries reinvest in resilience”.
Let me add a couple of resources on technology: interested in “robodebt”, the label applied to an Australian government initiative designed to increase recoveries of “overpayments” made to social security recipients? Whiteford has on online seminar about it on June 22. And want to make the tech revolution equitable? Tholstrup calls for universal internet access, identity for all, and investing in data management and storage.
And finally, maybe time to think about Summer reading… so here is the FT reviewing 3 books (by Pearl et al, Keen and Slemrod, and Hoppit) on ethical, historical and economic aspects of taxation.
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.