How fast has the social protection response been to Covid-19? Beazley et al provides a range of new estimates on the timeliness of cash transfer programs: for example, it takes between 6 to 55 days less to reach beneficiaries using preexisting registries (whether for new or existing programs) instead of setting up new systems; electronic payments get to people 35 days before manual methods; and the speed of governments (49 days) is more than double that of development partners (123). So what are the determinants of rapid response? The presence of foundational infrastructure beyond social protection (e.g., national ID coverage); the scale and quality social registries and information systems; countries’ capacity to register people quickly, even if based on older data; the application of digital solutions; and legal frameworks and available domestic funding. See also rich case studies on flagship programs in the Philippines (where it took 31 days from lockdown to payment), Peru (8), Morocco (17), Chile (24), Malaysia (13), Pakistan (17), Brazil (27), and Dominican Republic (17).

Let’s switch perspective and look at country responses from the standpoint of policymakers: how did Pakistan’s Enhsaas cash program emerge as one of the world’s most innovative and large-scale social protection responses to Covid-19? Hear the story directly from Dr Sania Nishtar, the chief architect of the program, in her interview with McKinsey’s Al-Kibsi.

But not all experiences are that rosy: for instance, Shonchoy et al summarize findings from a rapid phone survey of over 7,000 beneficiaries of the Old Age Allowance and Widow Allowance programs in Bangladesh. They found that about 51% and 22% of those people reduced medical expenditures and food consumption, respectively; and the median household reported having earned zero income in the two weeks prior to the survey. Yet 41% of beneficiaries reported not being paid the full benefit amount, despite such payments being due before the Covid lockdown.

More on Asia, where a new research exposes the limits of digitization of social assistance in India: Panda and Kumar show that in Odisha, there is an informal arrangement to delete names from their parents’ PDS ration card when they get married. But apparently, for most women their names couldn’t be re-added in their marriage location: “… none of the officials we spoke to knew of the existence of a process for this kind of portability in case of marriage”. (See also the authors’ full report on “Data Systems in Welfare: Impact of the JAM Trinity on Pension & PDS in Odisha during COVID-19”).

But hey, here is a counter example of technology as a positive force: during Covid-19, the main dissemination channel for “Tekopora te Acompaña”, Paraguay’s flagship conditional cash transfer, was WhatsApp with messages sent by “family guides” (sort of coaches for beneficiary families). Different formats were used (e.g., text, audio clips, images and short videos) to overcome literacy barriers, while the “human component” of the strategy was centered around Ña Carmen, a character who faced struggles and shared tips and advice. Surveys show that 92% of beneficiaries considered the campaign both necessary and useful in helping them cope with the situation (h/t Debenedetti, Mosenkis, and Strohm).

From LAC to Africa, where a paper from Malawi goes right at the heart of some core global debates: in a recent experiment by Ambler and Godlonton, people getting one-off unconditional cash transfers ($10) worked more than those getting the same $10 but conditioned on work. The latter group “… spent less time on household work activities, and possibly more time on wage labor, and less time working overall”. Why is that? Basically, those receiving unconditional transfers worked more, and the cash made “unpaid work pay”; and those getting conditional transfers spent time working as part of the experiment, following which they may have spent time looking for additional work (which however was unavailable) – in other words, they ended up working less, but perhaps only because of unfavorable labor market demand.

On the humanitarian front, Lough and O’Callaghan don’t sugar coat it: five years on from the World Humanitarian Summit, humanitarians are still failing to put people “at the center” of their work; and Gillard reflects on whether sanctions can adversely impact humanitarian action.

Back to pandemic, Alfers et al have a handy review tracing the ways in which the pandemic is affecting gender directly and indirectly (e.g., violence against women and girls, health and inter-generational impacts), with pages 9-12 providing a useful summary of evidence for social assistance and insurance.

Since I mentioned insurance… Zhang et found that in China, increases in the share of social insurance contributions hinder investment in technological advances among firms in the heavy pollution industry. And in the same context, Wang et al call for reforming national coal-to-gas subsidies, including a wider coverage of consumption subsidies which, their simulations show, would encourage higher natural gas consumption. Bonus on coal transitions: Cunningham and Schmillen develop a framework that distinguishes between pre-layoff planning, pre-layoff assistance and post-layoff assistance.

Perfect time to move to the labor and skills corner (h/t Michael Weber)! Chioda et al study the medium-term impacts of the Skills for Effective Entrepreneurship Development program, an in-residence 3-week mini-MBA program in Uganda: the 3.5 year follow-up among firms demonstrated that training was effective in improving both hard and soft skills, with earnings growing by 32.1% and 29.8% respectively.

Cash can help: Abebe et al show that in Ethiopia, an employer can attract more talented applicants by offering a small monetary incentive for making a job application (the cost of making a job application is large, and positively correlated with jobseeker ability). Cho and Lee examine Korea’s temporary foreign worker program, assess predictors for the job separation rates and propose alternative matching methods. And how does an ‘inclusive’ labor market look like? El-Ganainy propose four criteria encompassing access, fairness, protection, and voice.

Some quick news: Montenegro will be introducing a child grant for children 0-6 and free textbooks for primary school children (h/t Pamela Dale); here is a short synopsis of IFPRI’s longstanding research cash transfers (I like the accompanying indicators on ‘maturity’ and ‘stage in development’) (h/t Amber Peterman); and if you happen to need 1,000 (!) slides on the economics of poverty and development, check out Ravallion’s lecture notes for his Econ course.

… and pencil in these two events: on June 1, there is an interesting multi-agency seminar (by AU, APSP, HelpAge International, WIEGO, Save the Children, FES, and ILO) where we will “… hear directly from children, workers in the informal economy, and older people from different African countries on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their lives” (h/t Florian Juergens); and why is structural adjustment so unpopular? Find out more on June 3 from a panel of ex-WBG staff moderated by Devarajan.

Enjoy the weekend, including the long one in the US!

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 helps 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
        • Conditional cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
  • Social insurance
    • Old-age pension
  • Labour market / employment programmes
    • Active labour market programmes / Productive inclusion
      • Job training
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
    • Governance and coordination
  • Programme design
    • Benefits design
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Consumption and expenditure
  • Gender
  • Inequalities
  • Labour market / employment
  • Poverty reduction
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Ethiopia
  • Malawi
  • Morocco
  • Uganda
  • Brazil
  • Dominican Republic
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Bangladesh
  • China
  • Malaysia
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • South Korea
  • Montenegro
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's