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Social protection and cash transfers

Social protection and cash transfers

 

Social protection has significant positive impacts for poor and vulnerable children and their families. Cash transfers – regular, predictable payments of cash - are an important social protection modality. Research shows that cash transfers promote economic empowerment, while decreasing poverty and food insecurity. Our research goes beyond this to find out if and how cash transfers can be used more effectively to impact other aspects of people’s lives. Innocenti’s work on cash transfers forms part of an inter-agency research and learning initiative called the Transfer Project.

A collaboration between UNICEF, FAO, University of North Carolina, and UNICEF country offices, the Transfer Project provides rigorous evidence on the impact of large-scale, typically unconditional national cash transfer programs in sub-Saharan Africa and countries in the Middle East. The project provides technical assistance in the design, implementation and analysis of Government programs in over a dozen countries, including Tanzania, Ghana, Mozambique and Malawi. The Transfer Project disseminates results to national and international stakeholders and holds a bi-annual workshop to promote cross-country learning and capacity building.

The Transfer Project is a thought leader on cash transfers in Africa, with over a decade’s research. Findings indicate that cash transfers can:

  • increase household productive capacity and resilience;
  • create household and local economy spill overs;
  • increase school enrollment and attendance;
  • improve mental health and life satisfaction;
  • delay sexual debut and reduce intimate partner violence, among others.

However, numerous evidence gaps exist, including on promising ‘cash-plus’ designs, on long-term impacts and if impacts are transferable to fragile and humanitarian settings. While establishing effective social protection in the context of protracted instability and displaced populations is more complex, it is also increasingly viewed as an essential mechanism to bridge the humanitarian-developmental divide. Our project Social Protection in Humanitarian Settings is contributing to investigate what works, and why in those contexts.

Publications

The Difference a Dollar a Day Can Make: Lessons from UNICEF Jordan's Hajati cash transfer programme
Publication Publication

The Difference a Dollar a Day Can Make: Lessons from UNICEF Jordan's Hajati cash transfer programme

What difference does a dollar a day make? For the poorest households in Jordan, many of whom escaped conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, UNICEF Jordan’s Hajati humanitarian cash transfer programme helps them keep their children in school, fed and clothed – all for less than one dollar per day. In fact, cash transfers have the potential to touch on myriad of child and household well-being outcomes beyond food security and schooling.
How Do Cash Transfers Affect Child Work and Schooling? Surprising evidence from Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia
Publication Publication

How Do Cash Transfers Affect Child Work and Schooling? Surprising evidence from Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia

A Cash Plus Model for Safe Transitions to a Healthy and Productive Adulthood: Midline Report
Publication Publication

A Cash Plus Model for Safe Transitions to a Healthy and Productive Adulthood: Midline Report

This report provides midline findings from the impact evaluation of a cash plus model targeting youth in households receiving the United Republic of Tanzania’s Productive Social Safety Net (PSSN). Implemented by the Tanzania Social Action Fund (TASAF), with technical assistance of the Tanzania Commission for AIDS (TACAIDS) and UNICEF Tanzania, the programme aims to improve livelihood opportunities and facilitate a safe transition to adulthood.

Journal Articles

Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia
Journal Article Journal Article

Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia

More evidence on the relationship between cash transfers and child height
Journal Article Journal Article

More evidence on the relationship between cash transfers and child height

We examine the effect of the Zambia Child Grant Programme – an unconditional cash transfer (CT) targeted to rural households with children under age five – on height-for-age up to four years after programme initiation. The CT scheme had large positive effects on nutritional inputs like food expenditure and meal frequency, but no impact on child height-for-age. Production function estimates indicate that food carries little weight in the production of child height in the study sample. In settings with poor health infrastructure and harsh disease environments, a stand-alone CT is unlikely to address long-term chronic malnutrition unless accompanied by complementary interventions.
Can conditional cash transfers improve maternal health care? Evidence from El Salvador's Comunidades Solidarias Rurales program
Journal Article Journal Article

Can conditional cash transfers improve maternal health care? Evidence from El Salvador's Comunidades Solidarias Rurales program

There is growing evidence on positive human capital impacts of large, poverty‐focused cash transfer programs. However, evidence is inconclusive on whether cash transfer programs affect maternal health outcomes, and if so, through which pathways. We use a regression discontinuity design with an implicit threshold to evaluate the impact of Comunidades Solidarias Rurales in El Salvador on four maternal health service utilization outcomes: (a) prenatal care; (b) skilled attendance at birth; (c) birth in health facilities; and (d) postnatal care. We find robust impacts on outcomes at the time of birth but not on prenatal and postnatal care. In addition to income effects, supply‐side health service improvements and gains in women's agency may have played a role in realizing these gains. With growing inequalities in maternal health outcomes globally, results contribute to an understanding of how financial incentives can address health systems and financial barriers that prevent poor women from seeking and receiving care at critical periods for both maternal and infant health.

News & Commentary

Dakar Transfer Project Workshop: The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa
Article Article

Dakar Transfer Project Workshop: The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa

(23 May 2017) There is more evidence now than ever before that cash transfers can empower families to improve their lives. In Africa, cash transfers are rapidly expanding as a key social protection tool for reducing chronic poverty and hunger and increasing investment in human capital. After nearly a decade, policymakers, researchers and staff from UN Agencies and NGOs will come together next month in Dakar, Senegal to discuss the evidence, share their experiences and look to new ways forward. The 2017 workshop, “The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa,” will take place from June 7-9, for the first time hosted in Francophone West Africa. The nearly 125 participants from 30 countries across the African region and beyond will gather with the objectives of: Increasing awareness of cross-regional evidenceIdentifying gaps for future researchMaking evidence-based recommendations for governments to improve design, implementation and integration of cash transfer programmes.The workshop comes on the heels of a recently published book highlighting the Transfer Project experience of social protection stakeholders working together to improve cash transfers. The authors reveal that one of the key components of successful cash transfers in Africa has been the transparency of knowledge sharing that occurs in the region – the upcoming workshop reinforces the strong collaboration among policymakers, development partners and researchers as they work together to improve policy, implementation and evaluation. Participants joining this year’s workshop will share the most up-to-date evidence on social, economic and productive impacts, continue to dispel myths, and address current challenges. In addition, it will feature presentations on innovative topics around targeting, fragile settings, mobile payments and local economy impacts, challenging participants to think more creatively about the next generation of programming and evaluation potential. George Okech, FAO Representative, ZambiaThe Dakar meeting happens at a strategic time when social protection initiatives – especially cash transfers – continue to gain steam throughout the world. Giving cash has been shown as an effective strategy in developing contexts and is being scaled-up in humanitarian and fragile settings. Additionally, albeit controversially, governments are experimenting with the idea of providing a universal basic income in industrialized countries as well.By taking the opportunity to debate, discuss and reflect on topics such as “cash plus” and others, stakeholders will advance their knowledge, be more equipped to make evidence-informed decisions and improve the implementation and the scale-up of social protection strategies. The Transfer Project offers just one example of a platform that provides space for honest discussions about the successes and challenges of cash transfers, while pushing the boundaries to explore alternative large-scale options that hold potential for being effective. By providing participants with practical and actionable recommendations, the workshop demonstrates how experts can come together to effectively exchange information and work on research uptake to improve the lives of children and their families and contribute to the realization of global development goals.However, experts will tell you that giving cash is not a “silver bullet” - it is one tool in a social protection package. One of the many topics that will discussed is the latest research on the potential of linking cash to services in the social, health and agricultural sectors, for example. These more comprehensive social protection packages being initiated by governments are known as “cash plus” interventions. As George Okech, FAO Representative in Zambia, describes: "We have realized that there are (anti-poverty) programmes that run parallel. If two different programmes are targeting the same community and they talk to one another, you get more benefits. So, these are things that can be improved; that’s why we need to have some coordination efforts…linking two or three programmes together (can have) a catalytic effect.” As social protection initiatives evolve, researchers will need to investigate how and to what extent cash plus programmes have greater effects than programmes operating separately in the most vulnerable communities. 2016 Transfer Project Workshop Participants, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaStay tuned for more information on the exciting activities in Dakar! Follow the event on social media: #TPDakar17 You can also view highlights from the 2016 workshop held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti Youtube Channel: In English or in French.Since 2008, UNICEF has partnered with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Save the Children UK through the Transfer Project to gather rigorous evidence on national cash transfers throughout the region.
The Transfer Project international workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Article Article

The Transfer Project international workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

(23 February 2016) With increasing global attention on social protection and cash transfer programmes, Innocenti’s major strategic partner, the Transfer Project, will convene an important international workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia this April. The meeting will bring together national governments, research institutions and international organizations to discuss latest developments on cash transfer programmes in Africa. Since 2008, the Transfer Project has accumulated a critical mass of evidence on the multiple impacts of government run, cash transfers in Africa. Many governments have scaled-up programmes, raising important new questions on policy and implementation. By bringing together stakeholders to share in-depth experiences, the Transfer Project workshop will provide an unusual opportunity to discuss lessons learned and look at new ways for moving forward. The 6th – 8th April 2016 workshop will enter a new frontier for the Transfer Project, with the scope of topics and geographic focus broader than years before. Past events have been dedicated to cash transfer policy, implementation and evaluation; but this year, sessions will also cover programme designs that link cash to additional essential social services, known as “social protection plus” or “cash-plus” models. Discussions will be held on planned or initial impact evaluations, as well as emerging findings, methodological gaps and unanswered questions around cash-plus livelihoods, agriculture interventions and nutrition. This is also the first year the workshop will highlight case studies and cash transfer evaluation experiences from Asia. The UNICEF Ethiopia Country Office will host the event, with Transfer Project partners from across UNICEF, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Save the Children UK and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leading various sessions. Among the approximately 50 invited participants include government partners implementing and evaluating cash transfer programmes, and other social protection experts from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies.For more information on the workshop results, and to access agenda and presentations go to the Transfer Project website: https://transfer.cpc.unc.edu/ (click here to access past meetings and events).For the most up-to-date information on Transfer Project research and the workshop, be sure to follow on Twitter @TransferProjct and Facebook www.facebook.com/TransferProject  
Ideology or evidence? What does research tell us about common perceptions of cash transfers?
Article Article

Ideology or evidence? What does research tell us about common perceptions of cash transfers?

(6 June 2017) A new UNICEF Innocenti Working Paper, Mythbusting? Confronting Six Common Perceptions about Unconditional Cash Transfers in Africa, summarizes evidence on six common assumptions about cash transfer programmes in Africa. The paper uses data from eight in-depth evaluations conducted on large government-run unconditional cash transfer projects in sub-Saharan Africa, under the Transfer Project. The arguments supporting unconditional cash transfer programming for poor households in developing countries are numerous. Evidence shows cash transfers are effective in reducing poverty and also have widespread social and economic benefits – often larger than traditional forms of development assistance. An increasing body of evidence also shows that cash transfers may provide protection during humanitarian crises, as reflected in the high-level commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit, and the Grand Bargain.Despite their widening application, and growing robust evaluation-evidence base, some skeptical policymakers cite anecdotal evidence that cash is wasted or mis-used. Others claim that beneficiaries use cash to purchase alcohol or tobacco, or that cash transfers create dependency or make beneficiaries lazy. Doubts have also been expressed regarding the cost of financing such programmes, along with fears that beneficiary households will decide to increase fertility in an effort to qualify for benefits (particularly in child-grant models).According to the Transfer Project: “These narratives influence public perception of cash transfers and can play an important role in the political and social acceptability of financing, piloting and scaling up such programmes. What does the evidence say about these and other perceptions and claims around cash transfers? Are these anecdotes actually representative of systematic behaviour by programme recipients within large-scale, representative surveys?”Making use of data drawn from eight rigorous evaluations on large-scale government unconditional cash transfer in sub-Saharan Africa, conducted by the Transfer Project, the new working paper summarizes evidence on six common perceptions about cash transfer programmes targeted to poor and vulnerable households. Namely that cash transfers:  Induce higher spending on alcohol or tobacco;Are fully consumed (rather than invested);  Create dependency (reduce participation in productive work); Increase fertility; Lead to negative community-level economic impacts (including price distortion and inflation); and Are fiscally unsustainable. “We present evidence refuting each of these claims. We complement our evidence with summaries of other review papers and prominent literature, which has examined these questions, both in sub-Saharan Africa, and globally. We conclude that these perceptions are myths, and that they present a distorted picture of the potential benefits of these programmes,” say the authors of the new UNICEF Innocenti ‘Mythbusting’ working paper. Since such mis-perceptions often affect policy debates, they can unjustifiably limit the range of policy options low- and middle-income country governments have at their disposal to accelerate poverty reduction. The paper concludes by suggesting areas for future research on topics that are insufficiently studied, and calls for stakeholders to keep in mind the growing evidence base when informing programming and resource allocation, instead of relying on dated studies with little applicability to current programming, as well as on anecdotes, opinion or speculation. Efforts are required by all actors to ensure that ideology does not outweigh evidence. 

Events

Gender-responsive social protection in times of COVID-19
Event Event

Gender-responsive social protection in times of COVID-19

UNICEF Innocenti hosted a roundtable discussion on gender-responsive social protection during COVID-19 at socialprotection.org's 2020 e-conference.
How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations?
Event Event

How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations?

Elena Camilletti and Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed presented "How do national social protection strategies and programmes integrate gender considerations? Evidence from low- and middle income countries" at socialprotection.org's e-conference.
COVID-19 & Economic Impact
Event Event

COVID-19 & Economic Impact

On Thursday 17 September at 15:00 CET | 09:00 EST, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti presented its sixth Leading Minds Online webcast ‘What the Experts Say - Coronavirus and Children' on Economic Impact.While children and young people have been spared the full force of Coronavirus itself, the worst is yet to come for this generation as the global economy enters unchartered territory. Latest projections from UNICEF and partners indicate that nearly half a billion children in total will live in poor households by the end of 2020.  Lockdowns to control the health crisis are having severe repercussions as they cascade down, with children being twice as likely to end up in poverty than other groups and prospects for young people drastically reduced.Just in Europe and north America alone some 90 million full-time jobs were lost in the second quarter, according to the ILO. The COVID-recession not only threatens to erode global development but is predicted to have a broader and deeper impact than the 2008 financial crisis as it hits both supply and demand chains as well as informal sectors across Africa and South Asia.  But does it have to be as bad as it seems? We asked a panel of experts where the economy stands now, what lies ahead and how do we make the best of the worst that is to come for children and young people.Panelists:Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Jayati has consulted for international organizations including ILO, UNDP, UNCTAD, UN-DESA, UNRISD, and UN Women and is a member of several international commissions. She is also a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA. Jayati has received several prizes, and she is the Executive Secretary of International Development Economics Associates, an international network of heterodox development economists.Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalisation and Development, Oxford UniversityIan is a Professorial Fellow at Balliol College, Oxford University, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on Technological and Economic Change, and founding Director of the Oxford Martin School. Ian previously was Vice President of the World Bank and the Group’s Director of Policy, after serving as Chief Executive of the Development Bank of Southern Africa and Economic Advisor to President Nelson Mandela.Sacha Nauta, Editor, Public Policy, The EconomistSacha writes across the paper about societal change, looking particularly at how issues around gender and diversity are reshaping business, finance, and economics as well as society at large. She previously wrote for the finance, business, international, and Europe sections. Before joining The Economist, she worked at the United Nations in New York and at Her Majesty’s Treasury in London, where she worked on public spending and European budget negotiations.Joel Kibazo, Africa analyst, former FTI and African Development BankJoel was Managing Director-Africa at international business and communications consultancy FTI Consulting; Director of External Relations & Communications at the African Development Bank, the continent’s premier financial and economic development institution; and Official Spokesperson and Director of Communications & Public Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, the inter-government body serving the 54 nations of the Commonwealth that span the globe.

Project team

Dominic Richardson

UNICEF Innocenti

Kaku Attah Damoah

UNICEF Innocenti

Maja Gavrilovic

UNICEF Innocenti

Valeria Groppo

UNICEF Innocenti

Lusajo Kajula

UNICEF Innocenti

Luisa Natali

UNICEF Innocenti

Frank Otchere

UNICEF Innocenti

Amber Peterman

UNICEF Innocenti

Nyasha Tirivayi

UNICEF Innocenti

Elsa Valli

UNICEF Innocenti

Francesca Viola

UNICEF Innocenti

Jennifer Waidler

UNICEF Innocenti

Partners

Videos

Research watch

Social Protection in Emergency Situations

Conferences & Meetings

The Transfer Project Workshop 2016

The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa

Social Protection “Plus” Workshop

Researchers and Policy-Makers Discuss Evidence for Social Protection Policies in Sub-Saharan Africa

Social Protection and Childhood Violence: Expert Roundtable

strengthening social protection programmes in Ghana

Related

Innocenti Project(s) 2016-2021:

Cash Plus

Child labour

Child labour and education in India and Bangladesh

Child labour and social protection in Africa

PROJECTS ARCHIVE

Books

From Evidence to Action: The Story of Cash Transfers and Impact Evaluation in Sub-Saharan Africa

Blogs

Cash support: a new tool to decrease Intimate Partner Violence?

Mind the gender gap: How can a gender-norm lens improve social protection outcomes for adolescents?

No Lost Generation: Cash transfers for displaced Syrian children in Lebanon

Opening the black box: Cash transfers and post-intervention research

Measuring taboo topics: List randomization for research on gender-based violence

Journal articles

More evidence on the relationship between cash transfers and child height

Beyond internal validity: Towards a broader understanding of credibility in development policy research

Social Protection in Contexts of Fragility & forced Displacement: Introduction to a special issue

Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a Refugee-Hosting Setting

No Lost Generation: Supporting the School Participation of Displaced Syrian Children in Lebanon

Linking Social Rights to Active Citizenship for the Most Vulnerable: the Role of Rights and Accountability in the ‘Making’ and ‘Shaping’ of Social Protection

Cash Transfers, Microentrepreneurial Activity, and Child Work: Evidence from Malawi and Zambia

Impact evaluation of a social protection programme paired with fee waivers on enrolment in Ghana’s National Health Insurance Scheme

Perspectives of adolescent and young adults on poverty-related stressors: a qualitative study in Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania

Government of Malawi's Unconditional Cash Transfer Improves Youth Mental Health

Cash Transfers, Early Marriage, and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia

What's new

Researchers & Policy-Makers Discuss Evidence for Social Protection Policies in sub-Saharan Africa

Workshop on Evidence on Social Protection in Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement

When Cash Alone is Not Enough: The transformative power of cash plus programmes

Social protection shows potential to promote active citizenship

External website

The Transfer Project