Social protection provisions by the state don’t occur in a vacuum! Evans et al have a fascinating and much-needed ODI paper estimating the magnitude and incidence of ‘informal’ taxes and transfers, i.e., community and household-level support mechanisms occurring outside the realm of market transactions. By adapting the CEQ framework, they show that the scale of informal support is significant – that is, domestic forms of informal mechanisms (excluding remittances) are present among 24.1% of households across 99 countries. And in Rwanda, over 95% of households give and receive informal transfers. Transfers are also significant in amount, or representing 21.4% of households’ welfare. Bottom line: state-provided social protection could more fully recognize, strengthen and empower such systems.
Moving to formal provisions, two papers explore if and how cash transfers can help tackling malnutrition! Placed within the new IPC-IG Policy in Focus volume (p.39-41), Gavrilovic et al review the effects of cash on maternal nutrition and argue that transfers design (e.g., with provision of information, etc.) and combination with multiple interventions (e.g., iron tablets, etc.) affect whether consumption translates into improved food intake – and whether the latter trigger changes in long-term nutritional status of women.
In the other study, a systematic review of 74 evaluations of cash transfers and child nutrition by Manley et al echoes the point on program design; but it also find that cash transfers reduce stunting by 2.1%, but effects on weight-for-age and wasting were not significant. Interestingly, conditional transfers seem more effective at stunting reduction, while unconditional transfers perform better on food security and child illness measures.
From nutrition to education: what are the effects of conditional cash transfers in Tanzania? Evans (Dave) et al find positive effects on primary school participation and completion, including by 8-10 percentage points (pp) and 14-16 pp, respectively; but educational gains are concentrated among students who were performing better in school at baseline, with the most vulnerable children benefitting less from the program.
Same theme, different instrument! Aurino et al present new experimental results on Ghana’s national school feeding program: after two years, the scheme led to moderate average increases in math and literacy by about 0.15 standard deviations (SDs) among pupils in treatment communities, and to larger gains for girls (by 0.2 SDs) and disadvantaged children and regions (by 0.25-0.3 SDs) (h/t Amber Peterman). Bonus: UNICEF’s support to the UK domestic school feeding program in south London generated shockwaves.
Speaking of education, Neidhofer et al project the effects of school closures (and other lockdown policies) in Latin America and found that the likelihood of children from low-education families to attain a secondary schooling degree could fall substantially.
More on Covid-19, this time in Ethiopia: Cabot Venton provides a range of estimates on how a more proactive and timely response by the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) – as well as humanitarian assistance – could have helped save resources (up to $269M) and expanded coverage (by an additional 3.1M people). An investment package of cash and resilience building measures would have yielded a return on investment up to $3.5 for every $1 spent.
Moving to Asia, as discussed a couple of editions ago the NREGA public works program in India is absorbing an increasing number of workers: in a new piece, Klonner and Oldiges revisit the early days of NREGA research and reiterate that the program has the potential to considerably reduce seasonal income fluctuations and improve livelihoods (see also earlier working paper version).
More on India: what is the country’s emerging “New Welfarism” ? Anand et al argue that India’s current distinctive approach to redistribution that does not prioritize the traditional supply of basic health and primary education, and it’s also somewhat ambivalent about strengthening safety nets. Instead, new welfarism entails the subsidized public provision of essential goods and services like bank accounts, cooking gas, toilets, electricity, housing, water, and plain cash transfers.
Still on the region, Parry et al have an enthusiastic piece on VoxDev showing the power of “trusting people with cash transfers” (including a BRAC asset and cash transfer program) while demonstrating poverty traps empirically. While great, I would say… not so fast: let’s underscore the study’s caveat that the model would work “in some circumstances” — not everyone is an entrepreneur and it takes more than a single large transfer to address poverty.
Let’s head to the US: Goldin et al investigate how the timing of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit issuance affects food purchases and the incidence of the transfer. Using retail scanner data from a large sample of grocery stores and state and time variation in SNAP issuance schedules, they document large, SNAP-induced intra-month cycles in food expenditures. However, retailers do not adjust prices based on these predictable patterns of demand. Therefore, reforming issuance schedules reduce costs from SNAP-induced demand surges but are unlikely to affect the incidence of SNAP benefits.
Important evidence from Africa shows the links between “rain and blood”: can climate change generate violence? Yes, by altering rainfall patterns: McGuirk and Nunn show that in Africa, one standard deviation decrease in precipitation in pastoral areas raises the risk of conflict by 29.6%. Bonus: a new database on the conflict-resource relationship by Denly et al provides data at sub-national level.
And now the labor and skills corner with Michael Weber and Indhira Santos! Cacciatore et al study how labor market regulation affects fiscal multipliers in 26 high income countries; Cho and Lee evaluate the employment effects of a youth job seeker allowance in South Korea: they found that recipients have a higher probability of being employed, but it took longer to get jobs than non‐recipients (probably because of quality matching); and Balz and Pforr argue that while almost all comparative research on the effects of employment protection legislation of regular employees (EPLR) is based on the index of the OECD, such index is methodologically flawed and could be replaced by a new proposed EPLR measure.
Integration works! Dahlberg et al assess an ambitious and newly designed program for increased refugees labor market integration in Sweden (including language training, work practice under close supervision, job search assistance, and extended cooperation between local public sector and firms): around 30 % of the individuals in the treatment group are employed each month during the first year following the end of the program, compared to an average of approximately 15% in the control group.
Final assortment: plenty of great reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic and social protection, including by Abdoul-Azize and El Gamil, Bali et al (with a focus on gender), an ECLAC report by Blofield et al, and finally by Gerard et al; Williamson et al show that Americans have more inclusive attitudes toward migrants when primed to think about their own family history; and the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network reports on the latest from Nepal: “… even after the lockdown is lifted, things are still not fully on track. It is the same environment of unemployment and fear”, older male respondent in Kathmandu (h/t Florian Juergens).
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.