Third strike and you’re out? Rich data source reveals proxy means test failures

What do you do when your most important poverty measurement tool on a poverty outreach programme looks as if it is not working? Guest blogger Julie Lawson-McDowall writes.

Not so long ago, we at CRS’s Expanding Financial Inclusion (EFI) project ( ) had a bit of a moment: it looked as if our main poverty measurement tool wasn’t working very well. We were using the ‘Progress ...

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World Bank policy review promises a future where incomes are insecure

A World Bank policy review has risks both for employment rights and the right to social protection, warns Peter Bakvis.

The World Bank decided last year to devote the 2019 edition of its flagship annual policy review publication, the World Development Report, to the theme of the future of work.  Preparation of the World Development Report (WDR) 2019 encountered some delay after the ouster in late January of the report’s first ...

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Targeting humanitarian aid: something to be left to opaque algorithms?

As crises spread across the globe combined with increasing pressure on funding, the question of how best to target aid has entered the humanitarian world in a big way. However, while targeting has long been debated in social protection – and continues to be highly contested – humanitarian actors appear to still need to wake up to the issues at stake in targeting humanitarian aid.

Unfortunately, some problematic practices from the ...

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A magical use of evidence: the World Bank’s State of Social Safety Nets 2018 report

With great fanfare, the World Bank recently released its 2018 The State of Social Safety Nets report. The big question was: could the Bank manage to put together a strong, evidence-based paper without straying into advocacy? More specifically, would the Bank continue its practice of using the report to advocate for poverty-targeting and, if so, would it do so on the basis of solid evidence, or fantasy?

Alas, a quick skim ...

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Social Protection through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s parable for the unwary

What can a 19th Century work of literary nonsense teach us about global social protection debates? To mark April Fools’ Day, our guest blogger Nicholas Freeland suggests that Lewis Carroll’s work The Walrus and the Carpenter can tell us more more about prevailing dogmas in the sector than you might imagine!

Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was a master of the art of literary nonsense. His major works include Alice in Wonderland and ...

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Making smart use of technology: How electronic registration made Kenya’s universal pension possible

The Government of Kenya made a landmark decision in 2017 to provide a basic monthly pension income to its older citizens over the age of 70 years. The move represents a major step forward in the building of Kenya’s national social protection system. As the final preparations are made to make payments – which should happen within weeks – this blog explains how the country used electronic registration to roll out ...

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Busting the myth that conditional cash transfers are gender-sensitive

Recipients of Mexico's conditional cash transfer social protection programme

Social protection systems are among the key policy instruments that policy-makers have at their disposal to address inequalities and advance social inclusion. Social protection systems have the potential to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, they have played an important role in increasing women’s access to personal income in Latin America, as this figure shows, writes ...

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Five things we learnt about poverty dynamics in world’s fourth most populous country

I recently had the pleasure of working with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics (BPS) on a year-long project on poverty and child well-being. It was a productive collaboration: we ran a series of technical workshops with statisticians; crunched data from a range of new household surveys; investigated the incidence, causes and effects of child poverty and poverty dynamics in Indonesia; and explored ...

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How to support citizens with raising grievances and claiming entitlements

How can social protection practitioners become better at enabling citizens to raise grievances and hold government officials to account?

Development Pathways, DFID, Age International and HelpAge International last week brought together a group of experts to discuss recent research by Development Pathways on social accountability initiatives in social protection.

Presenting the key findings of the research, Tamsin Ayliffe, the team leader of the research project, emphasised the need to start ...

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Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan lose out in their struggle with the IMF over the targeting of child benefits

All those supporting inclusive social protection will be sad to hear that, in the past couple of months, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia have both lost out to the International Monetary Fund in their struggles to establish universal child benefits. The IMF has obliged both countries to target their schemes at those living in poverty, thereby substantially reducing their effectiveness. Below, I outline a brief summary of the latest events.

Mongolia’s ...

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When and how citizen engagement can improve social protection programme delivery

Social protection schemes are often implemented in contexts characterised by weak accountability of government officials to citizens. Strengthening accountability is important to ensure the quality delivery of social protection and to build better relations between citizens and the state. One way of strengthening accountability is through increased involvement of citizens in social protection programme monitoring, writes Rasmus Schjoedt.

Social accountability initiatives – aimed at empowering citizens to hold officials to account – ...

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The limits of using ‘Big Data’ for development – an economist writes

Get your inner nerd out! The World Bank has launched a competition to help them better predict a households’ poverty status based on easy-to-collect information and machine learning algorithms. Build a statistical model that works well, and you could win a cash price of up to US$ 6,000! So what’s the pitch? asks Bjorn Gelders.

“Right now measuring poverty is hard, ...

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Has the World Bank admitted defeat on poverty-targeting?

The World Bank’s competition to develop a tool for poverty-targeting, with a top prize of US$6,000, comes after decades of work and millions of dollars of investment by the World Bank in designing poverty-targeting mechanisms. Many of their staff have dedicated their best years to the task – and yet success has been minimal, writes Stephen Kidd.

The best they’ve managed to come up ...

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Are you respecting the right to privacy as you advance social protection?

The protection of privacy in large scale social protection programmes in low-income countries is rightly under the spotlight at this time, and this demands an effective response from those designing and implementing social protection programmes, writes Richard Chirchir.

Criticism regarding data handling for beneficiaries and entitlement transfers, and apparent unauthorised access to identity databases that social protection programmes link to, have been in the news recently. Incidents such as these in the sector ...

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*STOP PRESS* at Davos time: Social protection a boost for the economy! (When it’s for the rich)

This year’s Davos there is a bigger spotlight than ever on inequality, but whilst the rhetoric is changing, I am struck by how entrenched assumptions and perceptions about poverty are, and this matters for social protection practitioners, writes Alexandra Barrantes.

It is encouraging to see the growing amount of research showing that low-income families (the so called ‘poor’) do not squander cash transferred to them by governments (or by donor ...

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Proxy means testing: failing both the economics test, and the rights test?

The use of proxy means-tests in social protection defies human rights and makes no economic sense, so nations must instead investigate options for implementing an inclusive social protection floor, writes Dr Michael Cichon.

Paragraph 25 of the UDHR states  “Everyone has… the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control”.  The right to an adequate standard of ...

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Role of IMF-backed elimination of universal social protection in protests

Widespread protests in Iran have followed continued decline in real incomes in the country. Like the ITUC, several media have identified declining living standards and plans that would further worsen these as the root cause of the protests. For example, a New York Times article stated: “The initial catalyst for the anger appears to have been the leak by President Rouhani last month of a proposed government budget [that] proposed to end ...

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Free at last! Kyrgyzstan’s liberation from poor relief, with universal social security for children

In April 2018, a new law will enter into force in Kyrgyzstan which abolishes its main poor relief scheme and replaces it with a system of universal child benefits. This is a major step forward in Kyrgyzstan’s attempt to build an inclusive, lifecycle social protection system, since the nation already offers universal old age pension coverage and disability benefits. However, it is a progressive move that has not gone unnoticed ...

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The two lives of social protection: the tale of cash transfers and social security

Here’s a curious tale about two very different forms of social protection: one is much loved by researchers, the media and donors, but its charms are debatable; the other is too often shunned by academia, commentators and funders despite holding greater promise and staying-power. We could call them ‘cash transfers’ and ‘social security,’ writes Rasmus Schjoedt.

Let’s look first at cash transfers targeted to ‘the poor,’ both the conditional and ...

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Down the ‘development’ data rabbit hole

STARTING my job at Development Pathways a year ago meant an important change in my career: I started conducting much more (‘raw’) data analysis than I had ever done before. Sure, I had worked with micro- or household level data before on and off, but this was the ‘real thing’: Working with data, all day, every day (ok, ok, most days). Over the course of this year, I have learned three ...

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