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What’s new in social protection – November edition

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Can cash transfers increase voting in elections? An upcoming article by Conover et al estimates that participation of Colombia’s Familias en Accion conditional cash transfer (CCT) program increases the probability that women cast a ballot by 2.8% (and women are more likely to vote for the incumbent candidate who supported the CCT).

A systematic review by Bastagli et al discusses the impact of cash transfers on 35 indicators: in general, cash contributed to progress in the intended objectives, but with variations in size and strength of underlying evidence base. Handa et al dispel a range of negative ‘myths’ on cash transfers, such as creating dependency or labor market distortions. Among the findings, they show that programs generate between 27-152% returns in local economies across Africa. An article by Profti et al notes that people may switch from wage to self-employment (own farm labor) as they are provided transfers of different levels. A Vox brief by Baird et al reflects on the limitations of classic economic models to assess the labor effects of cash transfers.
Moving to nutrition, Sanchez et al examine the nutritional and cognitive impact of the Peruvian Juntos CCT program among children below 4 years of age. This reduced stunting by 8.9 percentage points and cognitive functions (i.e., vocabulary ability as measured by Peabody test scores) by 0.2 standard deviations. A working paper by Devereux and Nzabamwita reviews experiences with social protection in six African countries and find enhancements in food security, but little or no improvement in nutrition due to under-coverage and low transfer amounts. A presentation by De Groot and Yablonski finds similar overall results in Ghana, while a paper by Lumbasi on Ethiopia found that women bear the main responsibility for observing ‘soft’ conditionalities of cash transfer programming, thus reinforcing existing gender-based norms and caring practices (see also Peachey’s reflection on gender and cash transfers).
Some mixed evidence on the Public Distribution System (PDS) in India: Kaul estimates that an Rs10 increase in PDS subsidy bolsters food consumption by 126 kcal/day (for all food groups, not only cereals); yet, the impact is almost 50% lower in corrupt states. Another study by Das in West Bengal shows that PDS targeting is relatively pro-poor, with awareness campaigns by community-based and self-help groups increasing program participation.
A new brief shows that in high income countries, 1 child out of 7 lives in (relative) poverty: cash transfers help (1% increase in spending leads to 1% reduction in poverty rate), but not for jobless and single-parent families. Among them, the poverty gap is too deep, and the size of cash is not adequate to lift them up. A presentation by Kajula investigates the impact of cash transfers on violence against children and youth in Tanzania. Emerging findings seem to indicate that CCTs and “cash plus” graduation components have increased formal help-seeking against violence, but not reduced its level. Speaking of children, check out three handy one-pagers on child-sensitive social assistance in Zimbabwe, Palestine and Sudan.
Not one, but three papers on humanitarian assistance and social protection. A discussion paper by Alawi Al-Ahmadi and De Silva provides a great detailed account on what it takes to operationalize social protection in fragile, war-torn Yemen. A working paper by Ulrichs and Sabates-Wheeler has a nice discussion on the rationale for connecting humanitarian and social protection spheres (see p.10-11), while another paper by Roelen et al provides an overview of the use of cash transfers as part of long and short-run objectives.
A couple of new pieces on targeting. A working paper by Sebastian et al develops a proxy means test for Sri Lanka and finds that it could improve the targeting performance of Samurdhi in terms of undercoverage, leakage, eligibility, and poverty impact. Valli has a new paper on targeting in the Ethiopia (see brief here): although based on slightly old data (i.e., 2004-2009), findings suggest an overall improvement in targeting, especially for public works.
UNDESA unveils its thinking on social protection in a comprehensive report. While providing insights on themes like migration, urbanization and disability, it also underscores that universality and targeting can be complementary concepts: “… complementary special or differentiated measures may be necessary—even if only temporarily—to help [disadvantaged] groups to overcome the challenges they face and achieve universal coverage” (p.114). Since I mentioned disability, Schojedt has compiled a useful annotated bibliography on social protection and disability including 137 titles on the subject presented with handy links and summaries.
Finally, Lustig’s monumental, 902-page edited handbook on the Commitment to Equity project is now available (the individual chapters and 81 working papers were already posted online). A pioneering project on the impact of tax-transfers systems in developing countries, CEQ has helped to bring the effects of financing and taxation more firmly into social protection debates – the latter often heavily focused on the benefit side of the equation.
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Ugo Gentilini

Global Lead for Social Assistance, World Bank

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