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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

Publications

Can social assistance (with a child lens) help in reducing urban poverty in Ghana? Evidence, challenges and the way forward
Publication Publication

Can social assistance (with a child lens) help in reducing urban poverty in Ghana? Evidence, challenges and the way forward

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.
An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children's Education in Rich Countries
Publication Publication

An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children's Education in Rich Countries

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.
Measuring Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries
Publication Publication

Measuring Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries

There is growing recognition among international organizations, scholars and policymakers that education systems must produce equitable outcomes, but there is far less consensus on what this means in practice. This paper analyses differences in inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity in educational achievement among primary and secondary schoolchildren across 38 countries of the European Union (EU) and/or the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The analysis focuses on reading achievement, drawing on data from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). We use several measures to operationalize the two concepts of inequality in education. Our results show that inequality of outcome does not necessarily go hand in hand with inequality of opportunity. These two concepts lead to measures that produce very different country rankings. We argue that information on both inequality of outcome and inequality of opportunity is necessary for a better understanding of equity in children’s education.
Un comienzo injusto: La desigualdad en la educación de los niños en los países ricos
Publication Publication

Un comienzo injusto: La desigualdad en la educación de los niños en los países ricos

En los países más ricos del mundo, a algunos niños les va peor en la escuela que a otros debido a circunstancias que escapan a su control, como el lugar donde nacieron, el idioma que hablan o la profesión que ejercen sus progenitores. Estos niños acceden al sistema educativo en situación de desventaja y pueden quedarse aún más rezagados si las políticas y prácticas educativas refuerzan, en lugar de reducir, la brecha entre ellos y sus compañeros. Esos tipos de desigualdad son injustos. No todos los niños tienen las mismas oportunidades de alcanzar su pleno potencial, de perseguir sus intereses y de desarrollar sus talentos y habilidades, acarreando con ello costos sociales y económicos. Este informe se centra en las desigualdades educativas en 41 de los países más ricos del mundo, todos ellos miembros de la Organización de Cooperación y Desarrollo Económicos (OCDE) o de la Unión Europea (UE). A partir de los datos más recientes disponibles, se examinan las desigualdades a lo largo de la infancia —desde el acceso a la educación preescolar hasta las expectativas educativas una vez concluida la enseñanza secundaria— y se analizan en profundidad las relaciones entre la desigualdad educativa y factores como la actividad profesional de los padres, los antecedentes migratorios, el género y las características de las escuelas. La principal particularidad de este informe es la tabla clasificatoria, donde se resume el calado de la desigualdad educativa en la enseñanza preescolar, primaria y secundaria. El indicador de la desigualdad en la educación preescolar es el porcentaje de alumnos matriculados en centros oficiales un año antes de la edad oficial de ingreso en la escuela primaria. Tanto para la escuela primaria (cuarto curso, alrededor de los 10 años) como para la escuela secundaria (15 años), el indicador muestra la diferencia entre las puntuaciones obtenidas en las pruebas de lectura por los estudiantes que obtienen los mejores y los peores resultados.

Blogs

Research on humanitarian social protection is not only possible, but desperately needed
Blog Blog

Research on humanitarian social protection is not only possible, but desperately needed

Rigorous research in humanitarian emergencies is not only feasible but also necessary to determine what constitutes effective assistance in these settings. This column introduces a Special Issue of the Journal of Development Studies which demonstrates that research establishing causal effects is vital for the design of efficient and effective social protection in settings of fragility and displacement. 
Reflecting on research at UNICEF Innocenti: 3 numbers that show the value of research on social protection
Blog Blog

Reflecting on research at UNICEF Innocenti: 3 numbers that show the value of research on social protection

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 answer is 1.68. This number has contributed to change the lives of many children and youngsters in Venezuela
From a human face to human emotion: valuing feelings in development
Blog Blog

From a human face to human emotion: valuing feelings in development

Thirty years ago UNICEF reminded the world that development had a human face.  Making up for the “lost decade” of the Eighties did not have to be funded through macroeconomic management, debt service or growth recovery alone. How relevant that reminder continues to be today.

Journal articles

Social Protection in Contexts of Fragility and Forced Displacement: Introduction to a Special Issue
Journal Article Journal Article

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

Poverty, Disputes and Access to Justice in Conflict Affected Areas of Indonesia
Journal Article Journal Article

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

Tackling Income Inequality: What Works and Why?
Journal Article Journal Article

Tackling Income Inequality: What Works and Why?

WASH and Nutrition Synergies: The Case of Tunisia
Journal Article Journal Article

WASH and Nutrition Synergies: The Case of Tunisia