How evidence helped address ultra poverty in Malawi

Evaluations of cash transfer programmes have shown a positive impact on reducing poverty, improving human capital and promoting recipients’ dignity and autonomy. Yet policymakers across several low- and middle-income countries, including in Sub-Saharan Africa, continue to be sceptical of these transfers as a poverty reduction strategy. They are sensitive to concerns that the cash will be wasted on alcohol and tobacco, increase dependency on the state and disrupt local economies. The Malawi Social Cash Transfer Programme aims to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations, which are constrained from participating in the labour force because of age (too old or young), chronic illnesses or disabilities. However, like many unconditional cash transfer programmes, this too faced its own share of scepticism. An impact evaluation of the programme’s pilot in 2006 showed the value of the approach, however those results were not sufficient to support a scale-up over time. In 2012, 3ie funded a second impact evaluation, which assessed the impact of the unconditional transfers on the welfare of children and their caregivers, behaviour change within the household, access to and linkages with other social services, and impact on the familial environment for children. The evidence generated from the 3ie-supported impact evaluation informed four changes in the programme design, including its eventual scaleup across all districts in Malawi.