A new dawn for social protection: a proposal to transform all social security programmes into conditional cash transfers

At Development Pathways, we like to please everyone. Recently, we’ve become particularly concerned by the continuing desire of many people to sanction poor and vulnerable families through the use of punitive conditions, despite the absolute lack of evidence of any added value from their use. So we’ve been racking our brains to find a way to help them expand conditional cash transfers to all corners of the globe while, at the same time, removing the damaging consequences of imposing punitive conditions on the most vulnerable members of society.

And, we believe we’ve cracked it!

The answer is to make all transfers conditional on growing older. It’s a simple idea and one that we can’t believe has never been thought of before. We propose that, as long as beneficiaries of social security schemes grow older, they should continue to receive their transfer. Compliance should be easy since ageing – minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day – is a process that comes naturally to us all. We’ve been doing it since we were born and, hopefully, will continue to do it for many years to come. But, once people stop ageing – in other words, when they die – we can enforce compliance by sanctioning them through the withdrawal of their benefit. It should send a powerful message: if you drop dead, you lose your money.


There’s a very strong rationale for using ageing as a condition. We can all agree that it’s important to encourage ageing. If anyone were to stop ageing, it could have devastating consequences for their wellbeing. The absence of a heart beat linked to the significant deterioration in brain activity associated with death is something we should encourage everyone to avoid. Furthermore, non-ageing could be considered to be highly anti-social: there is strong evidence that, when people die, they no longer communicate with others. Indeed, imagine the consequences for important social events such as family reunions or birthday parties: if someone were to die, these events could lose their sense of joy and happiness. And, if the non-agers – as we will call the deceased – are the breadwinners in the family, their inability to generate income will impact severely on the wellbeing of other family members.

The use of ageing as a condition should be relatively simple to monitor. In fact, we’ve created a new tool called “age monitoring.” As long as people can prove that today they are a day older than they were yesterday, they should be able to continue to receive the benefit. Monitors could visit households and, as long as people are breathing, they should be allowed to remain on the programme. A simple test should suffice: we recommend taking a needle and pricking the sole of the foot: if there is any movement, then sanctions do not need to be applied. Plastic surgery may prove to be a challenge for age-monitoring, since people may appear to have become younger: therefore, anyone subject to plastic surgery should be obliged to obtain an identity card, including pictures of them “before” and “after.”


Advocates of conditions should particularly appreciate the fact that we can apply this condition to many more types of social security programme than is currently the case. We should, for example, be able to create conditional old age pension transfers (COAPT) or conditional disability benefits (CDBs), thereby satisfying the desire of social protection specialists to continually generate more and more confusing acronyms. The World Bank should be particularly grateful since, currently, they are unable to give loans for unconditional pensions, disability benefits and child grants. Once they all become conditional, then World Bank lending portfolio should be able to increase significantly.

There will, of course, always be people who abuse the system. But, in most cases, it will be unintentional. We all know of cases of people who have stopped ageing, remaining in their houses, unloved and uncared for by anyone, while continuing to receive their benefits. In most cases, the non-notification of their death is beyond their control and we recommend that, if this happens, they should be forgiven and the money be used to give them a decent burial, with dignity.

Hand holding with old person

We trust that everyone will get behind this bold and innovative initiative. It has the potential to transform social protection. No longer will we have the annoying dichotomy of unconditional/conditional benefits that is so beloved of the advocates of conditions. There will only be one type of social protection programme: a conditional cash transfer. It’s an idea whose time has come.

8 Responses to “A new dawn for social protection: a proposal to transform all social security programmes into conditional cash transfers”

  1. Francie Lund Reply

    And a happy April Fool’s Day to Development Pathways too!

  2. Richard Morgan Reply

    I echo Franice (and send my greetings)! I’m just worried that some may not get the spoof. Those for whom conditionality (aka, punish those least able to comply) is as obvious as … astrology ….

  3. Philip White Reply

    Or to put it simply: “They that grow not old, as we that are left grow old, shall definitely lose their benefits.”


    Richard and Francie I truly missed this Development Pathways April 1st. “Conditional Cash Transfers are just but a punishment to the poor.” Nothing can be more hurtiful to the poor members of our society than such a proposal!

  5. Michael Cichon Reply

    Sometimes it takes a joke to reveal the cruelty of bad governance. Great job, Stephen and team…

  6. Stephen Kidd Reply

    This may have been just an April Fool’s joke, but the proposals that we see across the world to impose conditions on social security benefits and punish the most vulnerable members of society are truly worrying. And, as we showed in an earlier Pathways Perspectives, there is no evidence of any benefits.

  7. Nicholas Freeland Reply

    Or, to go back to the Shakespearean origins of Philip’s apposite quote from Binyon above, “Age cannot wither them, nor custom stale their infinite variety.” Thus the prescient Bard anticipated Development Pathways’ proposal for an extensive range of transfers conditioned on growing older!

  8. Victor Ngulube Reply

    What a thought provoking way of describing an unacceptable reality across the globe..interesting reading,,of course I would not want to take the prickle test yet.Nice one development pathways..continue cracking it!

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