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My top ten social protection resources for 2018

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2018 has been an exceptionally rich year for social protection research. As part of my weekly links, I reviewed some 300 papers published over the past 12 months, and with the calendar year coming to an end, why not compile my top 10 list? Easier said than done!


I had really a tough time choosing among the exceptional quality of and insights from the materials. But here is a proposed compilation, ordered alphabetically by author(s), including some major contributions to global knowledge and reflecting a certain diversity in contexts and themes.
Cash during childhood can bolster voting as adults. A working paper by Akee et al investigate how unconditional cash transfers affected voting across two generations of Eastern Cherokee household members. Cash increased children’s propensity to cast a ballot in adulthood among those raised in poorer families. However, transfers had no effect on parents, regardless of initial income levels.
What does social protection look like in a war-torn country? A discussion paper by Alawi Al-Ahmadi and De Silva provides a detailed set of lessons on practical issues combined with a thoughtful reflection of the author’s engagement in Yemen as frontline practitioners.
Looking at safety nets through an Africa lens. A report by Beegle et al takes stock of performance of social assistance in the region. Some select and tantalizing findings: over 2010-2015, an average of 14 new safety net programs were introduced annually; Tanzania had the highest rate of safety nets coverage expansion in the world; the administrative costs of managing safety nets was 17% of program budget; and 55% of programs are externally-funded.
How long do impacts last? An evaluation by Blattman et al followed the provision of cash grants to young-adults in Uganda over a 9-year period. About 4 years after inception, grants raised earnings by 38%, but after 9 years, these started declining. At the same time, incomes among those not receiving grants increased, hence control and treatment groups converged in employment, earnings, and consumption levels.
Universal cash, food, or energy? A working paper by Coady and Prady simulates the effects of a universal basic income (UBI) in India. It finds that a sizeable percentage of existing beneficiaries of food subsidies (PDS) would be worse-off with a UBI, including the poorest households. Instead, the replacement of regressive energy subsidies would deliver unambiguous distributional gains.
Time for myth busting! An article by Handa et al dispels key preconceived ideas around cash transfers. For example, cash transfers are not spent on alcohol and don’t increase fertility; they don’t spark inflation and can be fiscally sustainable; and they don’t create dependency. For instance, cash transfers generate between 27 and 152% returns in local economies across Africa.
What’s the global state of pensions? An ILO report shows that the working-age population contributing to a pension ranges from 6.3% in Sub-Saharan Africa to 76.2% in North America. Coverage of pensions increased from 2000, particularly via non-contributory pensions (e.g., Namibia) and mixed schemes (e.g., China). Yet most social pensions don’t provide enough cash to lift people out of poverty (e.g., Russia).
It’s not just about benefits. Lustig’s edited handbook on the Commitment to Equity Project provides tools and evidence for fiscal incidence and distributional impacts of social protection. This is key for a field that is often focused mostly on the benefits side of the tax-benefit equation. The volume also shows that the poorest in low-income countries can be net-payers – they pay more than they receive from the state.
Can we better connect humanitarian assistance and social protection? Only a tiny fraction (2%) of humanitarian aid is channelled via host governments. But national capacities are often unable to meet vast humanitarian needs alone. How are countries addressing this dilemma? The evaluation by Maunder et al shows how humanitarian support to refugees in Turkey was progressively aligned with national systems.
Is it better to guarantee income or jobs? Ravallion’s review argues that guaranteed jobs are hard to implement in poor places. Yet, switching to a universal basic income may not reduce poverty more than workfare or finely-targeted transfers: “… the final outcome for poverty will of course depend on many factors, including the information available for identifying poor people and the feasible means of financing, including the scope for identifying and taxing rich people. (…) [It] is very hard to come out unconditionally on either side”. 


Ugo Gentilini

Global Lead for Social Assistance, World Bank

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