We are blessed to access to so much information on COVID and social protection! Let me highlight a range of excellent institutional resources: a thoughtful OECD brief examines structural and new issues in social protection; the ILO has an insightful 4th edition of the social protection monitor; socialprotetcion.org offers wonderful monthly updates; WFP is minutely tracking school meals around the world; the GB cash sub group on social protection and humanitarian assistance has a nice newsletter; the IMF has a handy policy tracker, while a great database of measures is hosted at Oxford. And if you missed any of the previous 10 editions of our ‘living paper’, you can find them here.
Now let’s dive into the news!
A great paper by Garg et al sets out causal chains connecting cash transfers, climate change and violence. They show that In Mexico, a 1-degree Celsius increase in temperature raises homicide risk by 2.1%. But cash transfers reduce such effect by 50-67%. How? After ruling out the effect of conditionalities, the authors identify income as the main driver of results. Specifically, the effects operate via reduced stress-induced violence and by investments made in cooling technologies (fans, etc.).
Turning to self-violence, one way in which cash transfers save lives is by reducing suicides. A handy summary of the literature by Hensel finds that in Indonesia, cash reduced suicides by 18% of the mean suicide rate. In Brazil, the decrease due to transfers was between 3.4% and 7.9%.
A related question is whether we know anything about cross-country effects of cash transfers on mental health. And it turns out that we actually do: a new paper by Ridley et al shows that cash can reducing mental illness by between 0.1-0.17 standard deviations pending on design (h/t Amber Peterman).
Another myth is busted! Do cash transfers crowd out private transfers? Not only they don’t, but they foment informal mutual help. In Colombia, Garcia and Cuartas estimate that formal cash transfers augmented the probability of getting informal support in cash, in kind, and in non-paid labor from private sources by about 10 percentage points.
Are cash transfers just money… or something more? In urban South Africa, Nnaeme et al show that cash transfers are catalysts through which the state can help generate citizens’ agency. Receipt of cash transfers activated agency, enabling recipients to start or diversify livelihood activities. The paper finds that “… agency expressed through a strong sense of self, ingenuity and resilience denoted participants as active rather than passive recipients of public assistance. [This] counters the view that beneficiaries are passive dependents”.
From Africa to Asia: what’s the impact of the Indhira Gandhi National Old Age Pension scheme in India? A new paper by Unnikrishnana and Imai estimates significant increases in food and non-food consumption (between 5.5 and 8.7%) and assets (10%). But it had no poverty impact and reduced labor supply (by 10%). Is the latter effect a bad thing? Bonus on the region: everything you want to know on social protection in Indonesia is captured in a new fantastic flagship report!
I mentioned food consumption… but what about nutrition? New findings by Chakrabarti et al from Zambia corroborate global evidence that cash transfers enhance food security (here measured as food expenditures and meal frequency); but, by themselves, they had no impact on child malnutrition (height-for-age). And what’s the effect of macronutrient supplements on future growth of children born preterm? Not much. A review of 42 studies by Lin et al “… found no evidence that early macronutrient supplementation for infants born small altered Body Mass Index in childhood” (in did, however, have some effects on toddlers).
In terms of specific interventions, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean proposes a universal basic income, Stanford hosted a set of views on the matter, while a simulation of UBI was conducted by Kidd et al for Sri Lanka (transfers for 6 months and an amount equal to 45% of household average expenditures at a cost of 4% of GDP). Bonus: a post by Medlock visualizes the distributional differences between means-tested and universal child allowances.
And technology? BRAC lays out lessons from digital cash transfers, an oped by Dreze and Khera warn about the risks that an over-reliance on technology can entail, and a thought-provoking piece on South Africa’s roll-out of social pensions.
From unconditional to conditional transfers: wondering how to adapt public works to Covid? McCord was part of a thoughtful panel reflecting on those issues, including making reference to a compilation of blogs public works in crises (Packard and Weber), public works Covid adaptations (Bance and Gentilini), and digital public works (Weber).
From blogs to guidance: DFID and GIZ are cosponsoring the SPACE initiative, a consortium of specialists producing some handy and practical experiences. The first batch of products was just released, including a strategy decision matrix, a delivery system decision matrix, a set of pros/cons with various options for expansion, and a reference doc on gender and inclusion.
More on real-world practice: two ESID papers by Lavers et al on the political economy of local-level implementation of safety nets in Ethiopia’s Oromiya and Afar regions, both highlight the importance of state infrastructural power in understanding PSNP implementation.
What’s new on resilience? Vaughan Bowen et al have a new book setting out a framework for adaptive social protection. While originating from a climate perspective, its building blocks are broadly applicable to and set out an agenda for how governments can prepare and respond to various forms of shocks.
Speaking of preparedness… a sobering review by Krishnamurthy et al illustrates that predicting famines is easier said than done. Examining the performance of early warning systems in the Horn of Africa, they find a “… tendency to underestimate the severity of food insecurity” especially in parts of Ethiopia and Kenya. Among the causes, erroneous seasonal forecasts account for 79% of missed crises. On a brighter note, Weingärtner et al review 25 studies of “Anticipatory Action” (AA) initiatives – i.e., forecast-based early action, forecast-based financing (FBF), and Early Warning Early Action (EWEA). They find that “… even taking the possibility of a false alarm into account, it is estimated that every US$1 invested in the FBF programme would lead to US$3 saved in beneficiary losses”
Moving to (un)employment, in the US the virus seems on a path to fulfilling the grimmest predictions about automation: for instance, Barrero et al find only “… 3 new hires for every 10 layoffs caused by the shock” and “… 42% of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss”. And a new paper by Borjas and Cassidy finds that immigrants are more severely affected than native workers. Global bonus: Covid is not just about economic contraction: with an increase in inequality (+2% in Gini index), Loayza estimates that the number of people living in poverty would rise by up to 150M. These only partially overlap with the 130M newly-affected people by food insecurity.
Of course, upward mobility is constrained by a variety of pre-existing hurdles. These are vividly illustrated and quantified by Rains and Krishna’s article examining socio-economic mobility in 200 slums across 3 Indian cities. Key finding? Getting out of slums is hard. Most people improve their conditions, but progress is “… capped at a low level” and accompanied by heighted volatility at every steps of the way.
After discussing slums, how not to turn to housing. An insightful paper by Brown et al presents a “HEP” index measuring the extent to which housing fulfills health/social distancing standards. In Africa, 4% does so, and in rest of low and middle-income countries about 20%. My take-away is that housing itself can be a vector of contagion – an important issue to consider in the context of the health-economic trade-offs in “reopening”. Bonus: here are a tracker of C-19 in Kenya’s slums and recommendations to make slum programming more people-centered.
From urban areas to rural ones: why not taking stock of a classic question, i.e., how can agriculture contribute to development? An article by de Janvry & Sadoulet concludes that (i) supply-side approaches got lots of research, but limited success; and demand-side measures got limited research, but holds promise.
… and from classic studies to future ones: What the future of social protection? A blog by Lavers predicts that “… the future of social protection will, ultimately, be a political battle between the pressure to return to it as an option of last resort and the more expansive possibilities suggested by the response so far”.
Let me round it up with the power of knowledge… and the analytics that captures it. What makes the World Bank so influential—its money or its ideas, ask Parks et al in a Brookings blog? They conclude that “… the analytical and advisory products of the World Bank consistently influence the design, direction, and implementation of government policy in low-income and middle-income client countries. By contrast, we did not find strong evidence that the World Bank’s development policy lending—or investment lending—services consistently influence government policy.” (See also full working paper).
p.s. if you face problems accessing any of the above papers, just email me for a pdf version.