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SP Links February 1 – cross-country compilations, safety nets and HIV in Tanzania, the Indian quasi-UBI frenzy, public works in PNG, cash in Kenyan slums….

Let’s start with some rich social protection compilations of country experiences. Ortiz et al have a juicy 442-page edited volume on the outlook of and achievements in social protection systems across in 50 countries. There is clear and encouraging progress across a number of indicators, although universal social protection still remains out of reach for most in sample. UNICEF has a compendium of 20 social protection interventions in the MENA region: the report is structured thematically around evidence, coordination/financing and programs/systems with handy examples presented in each (h/t Edward Archibald). Speaking of UNICEF, next week’s universal child grants conference and USP2030 event in Geneva will be livestreamed here (h/t Zula Altangerel and Anush Bezhanyan).

The frenzy around universal basic income in India is reaching new heights. Proposals are emerging across the political spectrum but, let’s be clear, none of them sets out a real UBI (except the pilot planned in Sikkim state). While details are limited, they features versions of a guaranteed minimum income (not for everyone, and with benefits declining as incomes grow). Subramanian et al at essentially proposed this for rural areas, while an ever-growing number of op-eds discuss the wider debate (e.g., see here and here). Bonus: Rutkowski, Grosh and I have an OECD blog examining the tensions in defining ‘coverage’ and ‘universality’.

New resources at the intersection of health, nutrition and social protection. What is the cost of nutritious food in South Asia? It can be relatively high: Dizon estimates it being between $1.2 and $2 in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. In Africa, Fahey et al evaluated the impacts of cash and food transfers on HIV/ART patients in Tanzania (h/t Meera Shekar). The program provided ∼$11 per month conditional on health visit attendance. After 6 months, severe food insecurity declined within both cash (31.4 percentage points) and food (30.3). However, neither intervention reduced severe food insecurity at 12 months, nor food access, dietary diversity, nutritional status, or work status at 6 or 12 months. One of the best illustrations of vulnerability is set out by Wall et al: about one-quarter (24%) of the world’s population would become poor should they incur in a health expenditure (i.e., so-called “impoverishing expenditure”, or a direct out of pocket payment for surgical and anesthesia care plummeting incomes below $1.25/day). Things are getting better over time, but at least half of the population in most African countries is still at risk of impoverishing expenditures.

Fresh evidence on public works. In India, an EDCC article by Maity finds that greater adult participation in NREGA reduces leisure time for both boys and girls, and raises time spent in school for younger girls. Importantly, women’s engagement in domestic chores as their major activity is found to fall; however older boys are found to substitute for adults in agricultural work. An Urbanet blog by Ivaschenko discusses the experience with public works program for disadvantaged youth in urban Papua New Guinea (bonus on PNG: Schmidt et al discuss the country’s food systems). Moving to the jobs agenda, Wallace reflects on youth employment in Africa.

From public works to the interactions among other social assistance programs: Laurito and Schwartz examine the relationship between SNAP (food stamps) and school lunch programs in the US. Among teenagers benefiting from both, participation in school lunch and breakfast decline (by up to 23 percentage points) in the first two weeks of the SNAP month, increasing afterwards. Bonus on teenagers: a very useful Innocenti brief compiles recent research around adolescence.

What’s going on in the fragility-related space? An article by Bruck and D’Errico sets the stage for a WD special issue on food security and violence. An interagency report sets out the latest factoids on cash transfers in humanitarian assistance: they reached nearly $4 billion in 2018, with half of them managed by 3 UN agencies (UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP) and being heavily concentrated in MENA (70-80% of total). Another multiagency piece reviews the experience of cash-for-shelter programs in Kenya. Mercy Corps prepared an interesting report on informal social protection in South Sudan, including rules and norms that compel households with kinship relationships to support one another. For the same country, Pape and Parisotto provide new estimates of poverty based on high-frequency surveys. So what’s the latest poverty rate for South Sudan? Over 70% in most states, see figure 10. An estimated 2,275 people perished in the Mediterranean in 2018: a UNHCR report discusses such perilous journey and possible actions.

Several interesting pieces on big-picture issues! A VoxDev piece by Rodrik summarizes the state in thinking on industrial policy; a blog by Fox revisits an old topic, the East Asia miracle, but with a twist — a focus on the Middle East and on education policy; a new AER article by Egger et al shows that globalization increased inequality as measured by labor taxes on middle class vs the top 1%; a report by Hills et al revisits the relationship between inequality and poverty, and questions whether they can be really separated; and a NYT piece by Pande et al reflects on the implications from poverty being concentrated in middle-income countries.

Finally, one of the most positive aspects of social media – at times, it can truly open the doors to people’s worlds: if you are on Twitter, in this thread people shared their personal accounts of what it means being poor, from the constant psychological pressure and lack of time to shame and self-esteem; from not being able to repair stuff to not affording a present to a friend. Illuminating and heartbreaking.

(Heads-up: will be travelling next week, so links may likely be back the following one).

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