Summer readings on cash transfers and social protection

The first half of 2022 generated a lot of research on social protection. Having reviewed about 500 articles themed since January, allow me to share a quick pick of 40 exciting materials on 10 themes you might want to take with you on vacation.

1. Health and diet

A meta-analysis by Manley et al. found this cash transfers reduce both child stunting and wasting, but only by 1.3%. Moreis et al. show that, compared to municipalities with low cash transfer coverage, Brazilian areas with high cash transfer coverage reduction in the incidence of AIDS between 4.4 and 13.1%. Worldwide, a systematic review of the effects of cash transfers and other programs on HIV by Stoner et al., concludes that “Cash transfer [and] programs that encourage adolescent girls and young women to attend school show the most promise. A review by Ahmed et al. document it positive effects of cash in reducing “neglected tropical diseases” (leprosy, schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis). Roelen and Rodriguez summarize the effects of cash transfers on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASHING) results. And Cygan-Rehm and Karbownik show that in Poland a one-time cash transfers conditional on prenatal visits reduced fetal mortality and improved birth weight.

2. Education

A meta-analysis of cash transfers conditional on education by García and Saavedra shows that there are clear effects on schooling, few impacts on learning and relatively high implementation costs. Evans et al. have on hand Excel database of more than 100 studies on the subject.

3. Economic profitability

Aiser et al. emphasize the need to consider benefits over time: “Once the long-term positive benefits for children are considered, many safety net programs are cost effective…. Limiting the time horizon of cost-benefit calculations…often doesn’t take this into account. In Rwanda, Taylor et al. estimate the economic multipliers of cash transfers in the context of Congolese refugees and find that “an additional refugee who receives cash increases the real annual income of the local economy by $205 to $253, far more than the $120 to $126… each refugee receives”.

4. Brain and stress

A study of cash transfers in the United States by Troller-Renfree et al. found that children with mothers receiving higher cash benefits showed better brain development (effect size = 0.17 to 0.26) compared to infants whose mothers receive lower cash amounts. Jaroszewicz et al. AC watch cash transfers can increase stress among recipients. Indeed, transfers operate in an ecosystem of hopes, dynamic needs, pressures and expectations, which amplify and exert more psychological pressure when a windfall of money materializes. What happens when you provide lump sum cash, psychosocial support, or both cash and support? In Niger, Bossuroy et al. detect positive effects in these three treatment arms, but interventions with a psychosocial component were the most cost-effective.

5. Crisis

A cocktail of three concurrent crises is pushing governments around the world to put in place 5,000 social protection measures: There are 3,856 social protection measures in response to COVID-19 in 223 economies; 730 additional programs established by 41 countries for displacement caused by the war in Ukraine; and 221 other measures to counter soaring prices for food, fuel, fertilizer and other items in 84 economies (updated version available in a few days).

Beyond quantitative trends, what do we learn from the evaluations and implementation of these responses? I offer a range of lessons and reflections on cash transfers in times of pandemic.

A trio of studies on Cameroon (Levine et al), Greece (Tramountanis and Levine), and Colombia (Ham et al) highlighted various factors preventing the integration of humanitarian assistance and social protection for displaced populations. Development initiatives estimate that 21% of humanitarian aid is now in cash, but only 0.6% of total aid is channeled through national governments. And other things like that “parallel” systems are also evident in Ukraine, like Stoddard et al. document.

6. Politics and Trust

“State capacity alone is insufficient. Vitally, national and local political dynamics shape how this state capacity is deployed in program implementation. It is a key element of the book edited by Laver on the social transfer distribution policy in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya, Bangladesh and Nepal. What happens when a conflict erupts in the middle of program implementation? In South Sudan, Budjan et al. investigate on divergent fates of participants who got the grant and those who did not: The latter shows drops in consumption and confidence, suggesting psychological repercussions due to the cancellation of the program.

7. Child labor

A study by the ILO and UNICEF revealed that about 60 percent of the 62 studies reviewed report “unambiguous reductions in children’s engagement in productive activities(i.e. economic activities and/or household chores). Marcillo et al. show that in Colombia, cash transfers help keep children in school, but “It is women who make up for lost work at home when older children stay in school longer.” And Sviatschi shows that in Peru, participation in conditional cash transfers reduced child labor, which in turn reduced coca production by 34 percent.

8. Gender

A review of 70 systematic reviews on social protection and gender by Perera et al. found that having explicit gender goals leads to greater effects than setting general goals, but there can be negative and unintended consequences. A note by Peterman and Roy offers practical advice for adapting cash transfers to preventing and mitigating gender-based intimate partner violence. And in the Indian state of Bihar, Gelb et al. show that female cash recipients who are illiterate and live in a household without a smartphone have a probability of reporting the use of digital payments less than 4 percent.

9. Access to benefits

Immervoll et al. show that among eight high-income countries, there is only a small gap between the social protection coverage provisions given to standard versus “atypical” workers (i.e. self-employed, part-time workers and those in unstable salaried employment). De Schutter’s report on the “non-use” of social protection programs illustrates that program awareness, application information, cumbersome processes and stigmatization can hinder program access by eligible populations. And the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that forcibly displaced populations often have access to social protection “on paper”, but not in practice.

10. Design choices

Hammad navigates key transfer-related choices, like determining transfer values, timing, duration, frequency, and digital vs. manual payments. In Niger, Bossuroy et al. compare the cost-effectiveness of alternative “graduation” models on economic and psychosocial outcomes, while Premand and Barry found that parent trainings were more effective than money alone on early childhood development. Dwyer et alcontrast 87 programs in high compared to low- and middle-income countries and found that cash transfers in advanced economies have steeper benefit ‘cliffs’. Grosh et al. have a new edited volume on targeting in social work emphasizing the role of delivery systems in shaping targeting outcomes. Della Guardia et al. illuminate the animosity, resentment and divisions within communities in Chad. And in Kenya, Haushofer et al. claim that reaching the most “impacted” – as opposed to the most “poor” – could be socially beneficial.

Joel C. Hicks