Show me the money! UNICEF’s Innocenti research office released a handy analysis of spending across various social sectors. Data up to 2020 shows that median social protection spending is around 2.7% of GDP in low- and middle-income countries, and less than 4% of total public expenditures (for health, those rates about 3% are 7.8, respectively; and for education about 4% and 12%). The paper also reports the number of countries recording an increase (+) and decrease (-) in planned expenditures as a result of the pandemic (see above figure). The conclusion is that “… despite additional spending in 2020 in response to the pandemic, there is little sign of increased long-term investment in social spending to the extent that will be required to build back better after COVID-19”. Plus, government revenues are projected to decline in all regions except Asia. See also the recordings from a recent event on the report featuring the IMF, Save the Children, and the government of Benin.

From one crisis to another: Zaman et al have a new BASIC collection paper on social protection for forcibly displaced populations. Building on the framework by Seyfert et al, the report explores the hybrid state-humanitarian assistance provisions in Lebanon (see table 3.1, p.18) and concludes that human rights approaches are ideal, but hardly achievable in practice. It also underscores that social protection “… currently offers the best hope of uniting the humanitarian origins and development ambitions of the displacement regime”. Bonus: check out the BASIC research launch on March 3.

Speaking of rights, Ullmann et al examine whether cash transfers can promote the rights and welfare of children with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. They argue that “… we must move away from seeing children and adolescents with disabilities as needing charity and instead recognize them as subjects of rights”, and lay out a number of concrete recommendations – e.g., on recipient registration, disability certification, benefit size and conditionality, and societal integration.

But that’s not all for LAC! Rolon et al have a review on regional social protection responses to the pandemic (in Spanish). The paper offers some very useful analysis, see for examples tables 1 and 2 (p.14-16) with program level coverage and adequacy; box on programs for families with children and adolescents, gender sensitive interventions (box 3). Its conclusions are quite positive in terms of the scale up process, flexibility in adaptations and various innovation in technology, including registration and payment mechanisms (see also a one-page report summary). Bonus on tech and social protection, in this case artificial intelligence: a blog by Lokshin and Umapathi argues that “… system design must consider the human factor. Successful use of AI in social protection requires an explicit institutional redesign, not mere tool-like adoption of AI in a pure information technology sense”.

Moving to Africa, Novignon et al have an interesting paper evaluating the impact of unconditional cash transfers on morbidity and health seeking behavior in Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Findings are in line with global evidence: there are overall strong impacts on health services utilization (especially among the ill), but impact on morbidity was more mixed (e.g., among children, protective impacts were found on diarrhea in Malawi and Zambia).

Since I mentioned Zambia, another paper by Chipanta et al examines the relationship between cash transfers and adolescents’ wellbeing among a sample of 1800 households. It finds that cash transfers are associated with “… no health access restrictions related to disability, and lower levels of seeking mental health support” (see also figure 1 and 2 on how results align to select SDGs).

Let’s stay in the region: ever heard of “MIRA”? It’s a tool for collecting data on household resilience, relying on enumerators from within the community of focus. A blog by Upton sets out a MIRA case study from Madagascar describing how data is entered in a mobile app, synched to a cloud-based platform, and then analyzed to generate near real-time insights.

Final mix: the 14th episode of universal transfers in the pandemic comes from Hong-Kong, where 6+ million adults will receive ~$1,300 as vouchers; Rosalsky has a piece on “why America has been so stingy in fighting child poverty”; a dual podcast with Bastagli and de Wispelaere discusses UBI in the context of the world of work and social protection systems; and another podcast with Ortiz-Juarez, Fouksman and Lehto reflects on “why does global poverty exist and could we share wealth more evenly”.


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 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: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
    • Expenditure and financing
  • Programme design
    • Conditionalities
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Consumption and expenditure
  • Disability
  • Education
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Health
  • Human rights
  • Labour market / employment
  • Resilience
  • Benin
  • Ghana
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
  • United States
  • Hong Kong S.A.R., China
  • Lebanon
  • Latin America & Caribbean
The views presented here are the author's and not's