Published on Let's Talk Development

What happened in 2020? Your summer reading list on social protection

This page in:

Looking for Summer holiday readings? Drawing from my weekly social protection newsletter, here is a select compilation of materials out this year and spanning ten themes.


Let’s start with data trackers: the ILO has its 4th edition of the social protection monitor; WFP is tracking school meals around the world; the IMF has a dedicated policy tracker; a database of measures is hosted at Oxford; and our global social protection response paper (v.11)comes with the accompanying Excel file. What about literature? The OECD examines structural and new issues in social protection; Lustig and Tommasi discuss social protection and Covid in the LAC region, the SPACE initiative has a strategy decision matrix, a delivery system decision matrix, a set of pros/cons with various options for expansion; Bassier et al examine how South Africa repurposed its social assistance system to support informal workers; Robalino unbundles the protecting lives vs jobs conundrum; and Brown et al show that 96% of housing in African doesn’t meet global Covid standards.

Saving lives, health, and mental wellbeing

In Brazil, Oliveira Alves et al found that that an increase in the duration of high Bolsa CCT coverage (of 70% or more) is associated with a fall in suicide rates. In the US, Rambotti estimated that an increase in SNAP participation by a standard deviation could have reduced suicides and saved the lives of approximately 31,600 people; Indonesia, Hensel finds that cash reduced suicides by 18% of the mean suicide rate; Ridley et al shows that cash can reduce mental illness by between 0.1-0.17 standard deviations pending on design; Owusu-Addo et al articulate the transmission channels through which cash transfers can affect the social determinants of health; De Brauw and Peterman present new evidence from El Salvador’s cash transfers showing impacts on maternal health at the time of birth; Roelen et al review the state of the evidence on graduation programs and early childhood development; Thomas et al found that social protection interventions had the best outcomes for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS; Pescarini et al show that in Brazil, receiving Bolsa cash transfers before diagnosis led to better leprosy treatment adherence; and in Ethiopia, Hirvonen et al estimate that only 10-22% of PSNP families receive health programs;

Education, gender and adolescence

In Mali, Lees et al find that cash transfers had limited effects on women’s agency to challenge male authority and control over sexual and financial matters; a cross-country review by Baranov et al finds that cash reduces intimate partner violence (physical and emotional); Pozuelo et al conclude that cash transfers exhibit mixed effects on adolescents' health and social outcomes; in Tanzania, TASAF et al estimate that cash transfers have limited effects in helping young people make safe and healthy transitions into adulthood; Li and Sekhri report a decline in children’s primary school enrollment due to India’s NREGA program; a paper on cash in Bolivia by Canelas and Nino-Zarazua shows that transfers increased school enrollment, but had no effects on child labor; in Peru, Sanchez et al found that the Juntos program affects cognitive skills among children of 0-4 years of age, but not those in the 5-8 age cohort.

Food security and nutrition

Daidone et al show that beneficiaries of cash transfers in Lesotho increased consumption and diversified diets; new findings by Chakrabarti et al from Zambia find that cash transfers enhance food security, but had no impact on child malnutrition;  in Burkina Faso, Gross et al estimate that food assistance improves nutrition as measured by body mass indexes; and Chowdhury et al show that under Bangladesh’s Food Friendly Program, only 86% of beneficiaries receive the full amount of rice (60kg)

Climate, energy and the environment

In Indonesia, Ferraro and Simorangkir estimate that cash transfers reduced tree cover losses by 30% (and the economic value from reduced carbon emissions alone could cover for cash implementation costs); Nawaz and Iqbal show that Pakistan’s cash transfers increase the use of modern fuels, but also boost the share of fuel in household expenses; a report by McGregor and Girardeau examines how cash transfers help low-income households afford and connect to energy, and not just compensate for energy subsidy reductions; a new paper by Solórzano and Cárdenes discusses social protection and climate change, with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean; Garg et al show that in Mexico, a 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature raises homicide risk by 2.1%, but cash transfers reduce such effect by 50-67%; and Vaughan Bowen et al have a new book setting out a framework for adaptive social protection.

Fragility and displacement

Phadera et al examined how the Iraqi PDS mitigated the loss of welfare induced by forced displacement; in the Central African Republic, Alik-Lagrange et al estimate that>public works increased monthly earnings by 10%; in Kenya’s refugee camps, Delius and Sterck show that mobile cash transfers increased businesses’ revenues;Jaspars et al discuss power dynamics around humanitarian assistance in Somalia;and Chaaban et al show that the effects of a large cash transfer on Syrian refugees in Lebanon faded away within 4 to 10 months after program discontinuation.

Jobs and economic effects

Jayachandran summarizes the effects of cash transfers on small-scale entrepreneurship in Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, and Central America; in Lesotho, by Prifti et al document that cash transfers increase farm profitability, but impacts are limited to ‘viable’ recipients with land and labor capacity; and Sabates-Wheeler et al examine the (limited) long-run effects of the PSNP on ‘graduation’ of beneficiaries over a decade of implementation

Political economy and trust

Conover et al find that in Colombia, cash transfers increase political participation by women as well as votes for incumbent politicians; in the same country, Garcia and Cuartas estimate that formal cash transfers augmented the probability of getting informal support by about 10 percentage points; Hickey and Seekings examine the transnational politics of cash transfers; Ghorpade and Justino explored how in Pakistan the BISP cash transfer program improved attitudes towards the state; in South Africa, Nnaeme et al show that cash transfers can help generate citizens’ agency; Lavers et al examine the political economy of local-level implementation of safety nets in Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Afar regions; and Nowack and Schodereron contrast the effects universal vs means-tested programs on social and institutional trust.


Ozler summarizes the evidence on different cash transfer design options; Gazeaud evaluates the performance of proxy means text in Tanzania and finds that inherent errors result in a 5 to 27% reduction in the method’s predictive performance; in Kenya, Heinrich and Knowles how that hard and soft conditions yield similar effects, with harder conditions also generating some negative unintended consequences (fines decreased non-food consumption); Bergstrom and Dodds argue that in Mexico conditionalities on children’s school enrollment offer an unexplored targeting benefit over unconditional transfers; Bastagli et al produced a great UNICEF-ODI report compiling key issues and features on universal child-benefits; Gentilini et al offers a 360-degree tour of evidence and practices on universal basic income; Aizer et al present evidence on long-term effects of US public work schemes in 1940s; and Homonoff and Somerville estimate the costs of eligibility recertification for the US SNAP program.


A report by GIZ and ADB unbundles the risks and opportunities with artificial intelligence in social protection; Muralidharan et al identify three lessons emerging from evaluating Aadhaar in Jharkhand’s public distribution system; Barca and Chirchir have a crisp paper on building an integrated and digital social protection information systems; Shiferaw estimates that in California, the adoption of the electronic transfers under the SNAP program bolstered applications by eligible beneficiaries; a paper by Alinaghi ascertains that M-PESA has had a positive impact on people’s financial health; Nishtar discusses how Pakistan’s emergency Ehsaas cash program is shifting the payment ecosystem from cash-based to digital; and Dreze and Khera warn about the risks for social protection that an over-reliance on technology can entail.


Ugo Gentilini

Global Lead for Social Assistance, World Bank

Join the Conversation

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly
Remaining characters: 1000