What’s new in social protection – combined July/August edition


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Let’s kick off with a new flagship report by Beegle et al on social assistance in Africa. Some juicy findings: over 2010-2015, an average of 14 new safety net programs were introduced in Africa annually; Tanzania had the highest rate of safety nets coverage expansion in the world; coverage of Senegal’s flagship program is higher than in select middle-income East Asian countries; administrative costs of managing safety net is 17% of program budget (but large variance exists); and over half (55%) of safety nets in the continent are externally-financed.
More on Africa. Lara Arruda has an interesting IPC working paper examining the course of Malawi’s Social Cash Transfer Program. The conclusions point to a range of challenges around fragmentation, such as multiple registries, and the need to enhance national ownership possibly by reallocating funds from the input subsidy program. The paper is also condensed into a handy one-pager, alongside similar summarizes on Libya, Morocco, and Oman.
Speaking of ownership, a new ESID working paper by Buur and Salimo examines the political economy of social protection in Mozambique: while over 90% of the budget allocated to social protection comes from the state budget, the paper argues that such domestic support emerged as a mechanism to overcome social protests after the 2008 and 2010 riots.
From Africa to Asia. An IMF working paper by Coady and Prady simulates the effects of Universal Basic Income (UBI) in India. The paper finds that a UBI would enhance redistribution if replacing energy subsidies; but the poor would be better off with the food-based Public Distribution System (PDS): “… a sizeable percentage of existing PDS beneficiaries would lose from the [UBI] reform, including many low-income households”. (By the way, the Indian state of Jharkhand is withdrawing its test in Ranchi to digitalize access to the PDS due to technical and legal glitches).
From simulations to the real world: Iran had a real UBI for a short spell of time in 2010-11. The JDE version of a paper by Salehi-Isfahani and Mostafavi-Dehzooei finds no negative effects of UBI on hours worked or labor force participation. Canada’s Ontario province followed Finland’s footsteps in scrapping its widely-publicized UBI pilot: while neither pilot was a pure UBI, Finland dropped his before finishing it, Ontario’s dismissal occurred even before commencement. This generated a flurry of reactions (e.g., here, here, and here), including a class action against the decision.
In reviewing Lowrey and Yang’s basic income books, Reich amusingly notes that “… the two books cover so much of the same terrain that I’m tempted to wonder whether they were written by the same robot, programmed for slightly different levels of giddy enthusiasm”. Bonus: the annual UBI event of BIEN just wrapped up in Finland – agenda is available here.
Moving on to transfers in high-income settings, a CBPP report by Butcher and Whitmore-Schanzenbach shows that in the United States, SNAP food voucher beneficiaries are mostly working families in low-pay and unstable jobs: establishing work requirements in such unfavorable labor market, they argue, would be hard to meet and administer. Causa and Hermansen offer some interesting insights on why equity is declining among OECD social protection systems. They argue that this is largely driven by cash transfers that favored efficiency over equity objectives: “… more targeted transfers did not generally deliver more redistribution because increased targeting was in most cases combined with decreased size”.
Let’s talk about nutrition. In Ethiopia, results from a JDS paper by Gebrehiwot and Castilla found no effects of the PSNP on household dietary diversity or child nutrition, suggesting that transfers should be combined with nutritional information. This is echoed in an FNB article by Gillespie et al: “… in and of itself, social protection has little effect on improving children’s nutritional status”. However, once linked to soft conditions, or behavior chance communication measures, transfers can improve nutrition.
But can harder conditions affect women negatively? A short piece by Haenn explores the unintended intrahousehold effects of conditionalities in Mexico. She argues that Prospera frees up the time and money of its recipients’ husbands, while increasing women’s household responsibilities, hence reinforcing unequal gender dynamics within the family.
Speaking of gender, a JDS article by Tsaneva and Balakrishnan finds that in the first year of the NREGA program in India, women in recipient districts were less likely to experience depression symptoms because of greater economic security and independence.
The NGO community has produced several new resources on humanitarian assistance: let me just signal out the NGOs position on cash coordination, PCI’s implementation toolkit for cash transfers and vouchers , and two workshop reports -- one on lessons from the Hurricane Maria response, and the other from the ‘tracking cash and vouchers’ event in June.
Concluding treat: two heavyweights, Dreze and Ravallion, try to deflate the hype on RCTs – these should be considered on a par with other methods, but are no gold-standard.
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Ugo Gentilini

Senior Economist, Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice, World Bank

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