Led by programmes like Opportunidades in Mexico, Bolsa Familia in Brazil and the Productive Safety Net Programme in Ethiopia, the first-wave programmes have established themselves as effective, and, in some cases, cost-effective in reducing the probability of being poor.
But right now, it seems we are in the midst of a collective breather. Everyone is taking stock. The European Report on Development has just released its report on social protection and inclusion, the World Bank has launched its new consultation on its strategic approach to social protection (building resilience and opportunity) and DFID has just published a comprehensive evidence paper on cash transfers.
So, what should the next 10 years of social protection bring? There is a real temptation to hang lots of things on the social protection Christmas tree--whether adaptation to climate change (adaptive social protection), economic growth (promotion and graduation), or social transformation (transformative social protection).
It is curious that, so far, the ”social” in social protection has been given so little attention. The original use of the term might come from Opportunidades, which focused strongly on longer-term non-income aspects of wellbeing such as nutrition, health, education and women’s power. But “society” (“big” or otherwise) is not really present in social protection debates. Should social protection be geared towards changing the rules of the game, which, if changed, would mean that SP is less needed in the first place? Can it be designed and implemented to reduce inequality? To reduce exclusion? To promote justice? To support democracy? This is the topic of a 3 day international conference hosted by IDS this week on Social Protection for Social Justice.
Most of the big money in social protection is going into cash-transfer type programmes, but much of this “social” agenda lies elsewhere: minimum wages, unionization, employment laws and lifecycle social welfare programmes. But most of the centre-right political capital (and the cash) is going to cash transfer programmes, so what can they do? It’s important to note that cash transfers, especially conditional ones, are effective at giving infants a good head start in terms of cognitive development--but this is just one dimension of equality of opportunity.
Can rights, justice, democracy, inclusion and equality be promoted with cash transfers to households? It will not be easy. Cash-based public works schemes may be good at building structures in one year, but institutions are constructed from rules and norms, not cement, stones and wood and often take decades. Could straight cash transfers to households could be delivered more inclusively? Maybe, but the currently-used community wealth ranking methods seem a good way to develop awareness and debate about what “need” is in any given context, whether or not the allocation process is distorted by local elites.
So instead of linking all cash transfers to households, why not apply some conditionalities at the community, district, or municipality levels? For example, cash would be transferred only if there was a commitment at this level to things like participatory budgeting, securing land rights, the use of social audits, community scorecards and performance thresholds for justice systems. The cash would be split between households (to generate demand) and the community level (to generate interest at that level). The risk of distortion (e.g. communities fiddling the books to get the cash) would have to be addressed, as would the quality of services. In addition, this would not be especially amenable to current evaluation methods.
But if cash transfers and social protection are going to leave an enduring legacy, they need to achieve these kinds of social and political development outcomes. Aspiring to achieve them would be a good first step in transforming Social Protection 1.0 to version 2.0.