search advanced search
UNICEF Innocenti
Office of Research-Innocenti
search menu


Jose Cuesta

Former Chief of Unit (Former title)

Jose Cuesta took up his position as Chief of Social and Economic Policy at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in 2016. He holds a PhD in Economics from Oxford University and most recently worked at the World Bank where he co-directed the Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016 flagship report series. He is also an affiliated professor at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He also worked as a research economist and social sector specialist for the Inter-American Development Bank and as an economist for the United Nations Development Programme in Honduras. Additionally he has participated in research projects in a large number of countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America spanning diverse themes in the social policy field, including poverty, inequality, fiscal policies/incidence analysis, food security, social protection, and citizen security/conflict. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Economic Policy Reform
facebook twitter linkedin google+ reddit print email


Experience with urban social assistance programmes is still limited. Many of the existing urban programmes are extensions or duplicates of rural programmes, but urban-sensitive social protection needs to reflect the distinct vulnerabilities of the urban poor. Furthermore, applying a child lens requires identifying and addressing the specific risks and multiple deprivations that are experienced by half of urban children in developing countries. As a result, designing social assistance for urban contexts faces challenges such as accurately targeting the poor (given the spatial geography of urban poverty) and setting appropriate payment levels (given the high and variable costs of urban living). Geographic targeting (e.g. informal settlements), proxy means testing (if urban-sensitive) and categorical targeting (e.g. street children) are popular mechanisms in urban areas, but community-based targeting is often inappropriate (because of urban social fragmentation) while self-targeting can be unethical (e.g. where wages below market rates are paid in public works projects) and might contradict rights-based approaches. These are relevant challenges to address when designing urban social protection programmes. We apply these reflections to Ghana. The country is a relevant case study because it is growing and urbanizing rapidly. But as the result of urbanization, urban poverty and deprivations are rising even though national poverty rates have halved. Anti-poverty policies and social protection interventions remain biased towards the rural poor. The ‘urbanization of poverty’ in Ghana has created problems such as overcrowded housing, limited access to sanitation, and outbreaks of communicable diseases. This paper provides guidance on the critical questions to ask to design in Ghana a successful urban social protection programme with a child lens.


Stephen Devereux; Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai; Jose Cuesta; Jaideep Gupte; Luigi Peter Ragno; Keetie Roelen; Rachel Sabates-Wheeler; Tayllor Spadafora

In the world’s richest countries, some children do worse at school than others because of circumstances beyond their control, such as where they were born, the language they speak or their parents’ occupations. These children enter the education system at a disadvantage and can drop further behind if educational policies and practices reinforce, rather than reduce, the gap between them and their peers. These types of inequality are unjust. Not all children have an equal opportunity to reach their full potential, to pursue their interests and to develop their talents and skills. This has social and economic costs. This report focuses on educational inequalities in 41 of the world’s richest countries, all of which are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and/or the European Union (EU). Using the most recent data available, it examines inequalities across childhood – from access to preschool to expectations of post-secondary education – and explores in depth the relationships between educational inequality and factors such as parents’ occupations, migration background, the child’s gender and school characteristics. The key feature of the report is the league table, which summarizes the extent of educational inequalities at preschool, primary school and secondary school levels. The indicator of inequality at the preschool level is the percentage of students enrolled in organized learning one year before the official age of primary school entry. The indicator for both primary school (Grade 4, around age 10) and secondary school (age 15) is the gap in reading scores between the lowest- and highest-performing students.


Yekaterina Chzhen; Anna Gromada; Gwyther Rees; Jose Cuesta; Zlata Bruckauf


Social Protection in Contexts of Fragility and Forced Displacement: Introduction to a Special Issue (2019)

Tilman Brück, Jose Cuesta, Jacobus de Hoop, Ugo Gentilini, Amber Peterman
The Journal of Development Studies, 2019-12, vol. 55, pp. 1-6.

Poverty, Disputes and Access to Justice in Conflict Affected Areas of Indonesia (2018)

Jose Cuesta, E. Skoufias, L. Madrigal
Journal of Economic Policy Reform, 2018, vol. 21 (1), pp. 21-38.


Research on humanitarian social protection is not only possible, but desperately needed (09 Dec 2019)

Rigorous research in humanitarian emergencies is not only feasible but also necessary to determine what constitutes effective assistance in ...

Reflecting on research at UNICEF Innocenti: 3 numbers that show the value of research on social protection (23 Nov 2018)

When I am asked why I do research, what difference it makes, and especially in an institution, like Unicef, that does rather than thinks, my ...