Social cash transfers, household targeting and generational relations in Malawi and Lesotho


It is widely known that social cash transfers have positive impacts on the lives of those who receive them. However, less is understood about how programmes are received by the wider community, and how relations within and between families shape their acceptability and effectiveness.

This webinar reported on a four-year ESRC-DFID-funded research project that explored in depth the impacts of three social cash transfer programmes on relationships within and between households in rural communities in Malawi and Lesotho. The schemes (Lesotho’s child grants and old age pensions and Malawi’s social cash transfer programme) target individuals or households based on different criteria. The research team found that while all three cash transfers are viewed by recipients as invaluable for poverty reduction, their full effects depend on how they intervene in social relations.

Three key findings were discussed:

  • First, schemes that target vulnerable households are based on inadequate understanding of household dynamics, and as a consequence are perceived as arbitrary and unfair. Recipients complain that family and neighbours become jealous and resentful.
  • Second, cash transfers to the elderly (particularly universal schemes such as Lesotho’s) are perceived to be fairer than those paid to young adults. They may also contribute more to building community bonds as the money is more likely to circulate within the local economy.
  • Third, unearned transfers to young adults may promote stigma and social isolation. Rather than ‘free money’, young adults desire opportunities to work for themselves, their families and their communities.

The webinar also explored the implications of the research for social protection policy and practice, particularly in the Malawi context.



Nicola Ansell, Brunel University London

Thandie Hlabana, National University of Lesotho

Andre Felipe Bongestabs, Social Protection Technical Officer, ILO, Malawi


Larissa Pelham, Social Protection Adviser, Oxfam Global Humanitarian Team


Roeland Hemsteede, one of the researchers in this research project and a former Ambassador, has contributed with blog posts related to the topic of this webinar. Access all posts here