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.
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.