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Cash transfer design can strengthen or weaken social relationships, universities find

15/01/2019

A university research project to identify the impact of cash transfers on social relationships has uncovered that cash transfers are viewed as invaluable for poverty reduction by recipients – but poor design can undermine this objective.

The three-year project by universities in the UK, Lesotho, Malawi and Sweden in particular found that the process of targeting ‘vulnerable’ households “is poorly understood [within communities] and often appears random”.

The Social cash transfers, generational relations and youth poverty trajectories in rural Lesotho and Malawi project unveiled findings at research partner Brunel University yesterday. Headline results, following qualitative research in Lesotho’s Maluti mountains and Thyolo District in southern Malawi, included that Lesotho’s universal Old Age Pension “was almost universally praised,” with elderly people “seen as worthy beneficiaries” who can live more independently thanks to the transfers.

Conversely, the researchers, presenting following in-depth interviews with multiple members of 24 households and with 64 young people, said “arbitrary targeting breeds resentment in those who do not benefit but perceive themselves to be equally poor”.

Child grants in the interviews, meanwhile, were perceived as rendering parents responsible for their own children, but also tended to come with “a shameful association” for young people themselves, who “state that they want to work for money”. The researchers also underlined, however, their findings indicated that “work is often unavailable or involves exploitative conditions”.

The researchers, noting that cash transfers are supported by diverse donor agencies and segments of governments, conclude: “Policymakers need to engage more both with the national and local politics of cash transfers and with the perceptions and social realities of beneficiary communities.”

Alexandra Barrantes, Senior Social Policy Specialist at Development Pathways, participated in the event. She commented: “The findings that poverty-targeting presents many flaws, that it can lead to social tensions and stigmatisation, and that more inclusive social protection schemes have a positive impact on social cohesion and dignity, very much chime with the evidence shown by Development Pathways.

More information on the ESCRC and DFID-funded project is available at www.cashtransfers-youth.net

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