Contact Jennifer Waidler via Email
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Social and Economic Policy Researcher (Former title)
Jennifer joined the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in July 2018, where she leads family policy and social protection research, including impact evaluations of cash transfers and cash plus programmes. She holds a PhD in Economics and Governance from Maastricht University and a Master’s in Public Policy from the same university. Jennifer has over 9 years of experience and has worked on a variety of social protection and poverty related projects for several institutions including UNU-MERIT, The World Bank, The European Commission, and the Centre of Excellence in Food Security in South Africa. She has rich experience analyzing large datasets and informing governments and policy makers on the effectiveness, design and implementation of social protection programs.
Cash transfers – Past, present and future: Evidence and lessons learned from the Transfer Project
Since 2009, the Transfer Project has generated rigorous evidence on the impacts of cash transfers in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and has supported their expansion.1 The Transfer Project is a collaborative network comprising UNICEF (Innocenti, Regional and Country Offices), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, national governments and researchers. It aims to “provide evidence on the effectiveness of cash transfer programmes, inform the development and design of cash transfer policy and programmes, and promote learning across SSA on the design and implementation of research and evaluations on cash transfers”. this brief summarizes the current evidence and lessons learned from the Transfer Project after more than a decade of research. It also introduces new frontiers of research.
Family-friendly policies in South Asia
Bringing up children requires care, time and resources. Yet, too often, all over the world, parents and other primary caregivers are left to struggle with this fundamental task without enough support. The burden of responsibility tends to fall disproportionately on women. Often parents have to make impossible choices between earning enough money for their family and giving children the care that they need. The concept of ‘family-friendly policies’ has emerged as a way of thinking about and addressing these issues. There is no agreed definition of the concept, but it is generally conceived as a set of policies that help parents/caregivers to reconcile various aspects of work and family life. Such policies may differ from one region and location to another depending on, amongst other things: demographics, including the definition of what a family is, and its function; the characteristics of the labour market and the workplace; the social and cultural context, including attitudes, expectations and norms; and the economic context. This paper addresses the issue of what family-friendly policies could look like in the South Asian context, where female labor force participation is very low and more than 90 per cent of workers are in the informal sector or under informal employment. It considers how these policies can be responsive to the particular characteristics and circumstances of countries in the region – including multi-generation families, family units built around adolescent mothers (and sometimes fathers), and migration for work both within and outside countries. It also tackles the question of how family-friendly policies might need to evolve in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. By taking an equity approach to family friendly policies, we provide recommendations on how to reach families in different situations and facing different degrees of vulnerabilities, including those not working or working under very difficult circumstances.
New research looks at how to improve family-friendly policies in South Asia
7 September 2021 - New research out today addresses what family-friendly policies look like in the South Asian context, where female labor force participation is very low and more than 90 per cent of workers are in the informal sector or under informal employment. Done in support and collaboration with UNICEF’s regional office in South Asia, UNICEF Innocenti’s new working paper considers how family-friendly policies can be responsive to the particular characteristics and circumstances of countries in the region – including multi-generation families, family units built around adolescent mothers (and sometimes fathers), and migration for work both within and outside countries. The research also tackles the question of how family-friendly policies might need to evolve in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. The associated advocacy brief: Reaching more families, benefiting more children and package of country reports identifies gaps and opportunities for family friendly policies in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
From Crisis Comes Opportunity: Spain’s Basic Income Response to COVID-19
Spain has been hard hit by Covid-19, both in terms of high death toll and worsening economic conditions. Government lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus left millions of households without earnings or temporary unemployed. A recent report anticipates a 13% decline in GDP in the worst-case scenario. This is a worrying prediction for a country characterised by high unemployment and high levels of extreme poverty, even before the crisis. But from this adversity comes an opportunity. The Government of Spain recently launched a national ‘Basic Income scheme’ (‘Ingreso Minimo Vital’), for extremely poor households and vulnerable groups. The means-tested programme is expected to reach approximately 2.5 million people, who will receive between €462 and €1,015 per month per household depending on the number of household members. Total household income and wealth determines whether a household receives the benefit, and applicants should be between 23 and 65 years of age and have legal residence in Spain of at least one year. There is also a condition of being registered as a job seeker. The programme is expected to cost €3,000 million. Protecting whom?Many countries have turned to social protection in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and direct cash transfers are one of the most effective measures for vulnerable families with children. While basic income had been on the policy agenda since 2016, the crisis incentivised the government to speed-up its introduction as living standards rapidly deteriorated following the outbreak. As opposed to many countries who have introduced emergency cash transfers, Spain opted for a permanent basic income, which will remain after the current emergency and can be considered a commitment to long-term sustainability and better responsiveness for future crises. However, a temporary cash transfer reaching the most affected by the crisis would have enabled families to access the benefits faster while giving more time to the Ministry of Social Security to design this complex policy. Pro-poor social protection in Spain had previously been underfunded with low coverage. With an estimated 5.4% of the Spanish population living in extreme poverty, the high transfer value and national coverage of the new basic income has the potential to substantially reduce poverty and transform children’s lives, who make up about half of the estimated beneficiaries. However, this policy is not universal in nature, and some of the most vulnerable groups (such as migrants, youth under 23 years living alone, and those with difficulties registering as job seekers) will be excluded. Ruben (4) memorizes the names of sea animals with his mother while painting with water colors during the COVID-19 lockdown in Madrid.Design mattersInnovative design features characterise the new policy. For example, ex-ante identification of beneficiaries has been adopted to improve targeting and efficacy. Moreover, while income from 2019 is used to determine who receives the benefit, it is also possible to apply if income up to June 2020 was below the equivalent annual threshold to be able to reach those who lost their income due to the corona crisis. The basic income is also designed partly with gender in mind. It explicitly considers the income needs of very vulnerable women and girls, including victims of sexual trafficking or domestic violence, by waiving the conditions needed to apply for benefits (such as applying as a household and being registered as a job seeker). This is particularly important as this crisis exacerbates gender vulnerabilities, with women losing their jobs, gaining additional care responsibilities, and potentially experiencing violence in the home. That said, the family-friendly and gender-responsive aspects of the policy could be strengthened by linking beneficiaries to complementary services, including child care support. The difficulties of incentivising work in a country with low paid jobsIn high income countries, where social assistance transfers are close to the minimum wage, a common worry among policymakers is that social protection can disincentivise people to work, even though this is not supported by consistent evidence. To encourage people to work when possible, the scheme does not count income earned under very short contracts when determining income eligibility, and benefits are reduced by less than the increase in earnings if a beneficiary starts working (the specific thresholds have not been announced yet, and this is a key component of the policy). This is an important feature, especially for single parent households where childcare incurs a significant cost and in countries (like Spain) where minimum wage is low so there is little incentive to take up employment if receiving social benefits. On the other hand, the scheme could encourage some to work in the informal sector so as not to declare income. An opportunity to mend a fragmented systemIn contrast to most European countries, Spain does not have a national social assistance benefit aimed at poverty reduction. Instead, this is the responsibility of regional governments, leading to decentralised, unequal, and highly heterogeneous programmes. The new basic income will have the same requirements throughout Spain. However, it is not clear whether this will complement or replace the existing programmes. Parallel systems may result in spending inefficiencies given that the poverty targeted regional benefits are not considered for the basic income application. As the COVID-19 emergency has caused much hardship, the recently adopted basic income is seen as an opportunity to reform a social protection system that was traditionally not pro-poor. Spain’s new basic income was quickly approved by Parliament, in a moment where political polarisation is at its highest. Its thoughtful design, some gender considerations in mind, and constant monitoring planned to improve its effectiveness make this policy promising. The exclusion of highly vulnerable groups such as migrants and youth can impede the progress in ending poverty though. Having well-designed work incentives features (including childcare costs) and achieving cooperation between the central and regional governments will be key for its success. Jennifer Waidler and Maja Gavrilovic are Social and Economic Policy consultants with UNICEF Innocenti. Explore our research on the impact of COVID-19 on children.
A “Plus” Model for Safe Transitions to Adulthood: Impacts of an Integrated Intervention Layered onto A National Social Protection Program on Sexual Behavior and Health Seeking among Tanzania's Youth
How Social Assistance Affects Subjective Wellbeing: Lessons from Kyrgyzstan
Uptake of HIV testing among adolescents and associated adolescent-friendly services