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Protection for the Poor and Poorest: Concepts Policies and Politics Book launch

Time (GMT +01) 12:00 13:15


Armando Barrientos - Senior Research Fellow and Associate Director, Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester, and Chronic Poverty Research Centre – Financing Social Protection

Professor David Hulme - Leverhulme Research Professor and Professor of Development Studies at the University of Manchester - Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest

Rachel Slater - Research Fellow, Protected Livelihoods and Agricultural Growth Programme (PLAG), ODI

Sam Hickey - Senior Lecturer, Institute for Development Policy and Management , University of Manchester and Chronic Poverty Research Centre - The politics of social protection in Africa


Ursula Grant - Research Officer, Poverty and Public Policy Group

Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest

1.         David Hulme described two processes: of revolution and evolution in social protection.   The quiet revolution means that hundreds of millions of households across the world now receive social protection and cash transfers are “in danger” of becoming the new World Bank orthodoxy in response to poverty.  Programmes types vary in terms of conditions, targeting and other variables but cash is increasingly accepted rather than in-kind transfers now. Reasons for this include:

  • the persistence of poverty even alongside growth, e.g. in China, India and Brazil;
  • strong evidence that social protection is effective in poverty reduction, both immediately and for longer-term more egalitarian growth.

There is also an argument that such programmes might contribute to political stability through creating more inclusive societies.

2. The evolution has occurred as the minimalist approach of World Bank’s Social Risk Management framework of the 1990s has been displaced by a multi-dimensional and society-wide ‘basic needs’ type approach; and there are further calls for social protection to be treated as a human right.  An example is the case of Bangladesh, where the government cash for education programme has revolutionised girls’ access to education; and where the NGO BRAC’s food-based Vulnerable Group Development programme became an “income-generating” VGD programme and now an “ultra-poor” programme.

5.         Rachel Slater asked two critical questions about social protection and chronic poverty in relation to HIV/AIDS. She asked two questions:

  • Are social protection instruments the right tools to tackle the impact of HIV/AIDS?
  • Is HIV/AIDS a special case?

6.         Because HIV/AIDS has multidimensional impacts on poor people, current broad approaches to social protection may appear suitable. However, the two use different frameworks which imply different activities and timescales.

7.         Matching up these frameworks is best achieved by learning from concrete operational challenges. For example, with regards to the cash vs in-kind transfer debate, HIV/AIDS is used to support both sides of the argument (livelihood support vs importance of nutrition for AIDS sufferers). What is often missed is the importance of inter-generational relations: recent research in Lesotho found there was often inter-generational conflict within households receiving cash transfers compared to food.  Also, it is often argued that public works programmes will be constrained by HIV/AIDS-related loss of labour. But there is only anecdotal evidence to support this in the context of population growth, despite the demographics of the disease. 

9.         While there are some unique aspects to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it should not be treated as a special case for social protection programming. Targeting only HIV/AIDS affected households or people was problematic:

  • Practically - due to stigma, lack of knowledge, the danger of perverse incentives, and the difficulty of involving Ministries of Health in social protection implementation; and
  • Ethically – it is hard to argue that HIV/AIDS orphans should receive priority over children whose parents died of other causes.

She concluded that social protection programmes should:

  • Target risk and vulnerability in general rather than HIV/AIDS specifically;
  • Support households rather than individuals
  • Be sequenced and prioritised according to prevalence rates and impact of the disease.

11.       Sam Hickey reviewed how politics was linked to social protection programmes in a number of different countries and argued that politics shaped social protection programmes at various levels through a set of global factors, social forces and national politics and that social protection programmes influence politics when they contribute to regime stability and legitimacy; social solidarity; and greater citizenship (or patronage – depending on details of implementation).

15.       Other key findings were that targeted programmes’ cheapness may make them politically sustainable; some existing elite-dominated welfare policies have been extended to include more poor people; and that social protection is closely shaped by the ‘political contract’ between state and citizens.

16.       He argued that the findings highlighted the need to policy to:

  • Build relations with finance ministries – consider cross-ministry partnerships;
  • Design programmes to tap into national discourses that will get popular support;
  • Shift poverty studies from a descriptive focus on the poor to analysing the causes of poverty - to persuade elites that public action is necessary.

17.       Armando Barrientos identified three achievements of the book:

  • It goes deeper than short-term questions of efficiency, to link social protection debates back to social theory and ethics;
  • It takes a global approach, but grounded in an understanding of how the history of poverty reduction and development policies in different global regions affects the shape of current social protection programmes there.  
  • It has a focus on the poorest, rather than the ‘productive poor’ closest to the poverty line.

18.       He said the key findings were about:

  • Scale: unlike many micro-programmes, new social protection programmes can be scaled up to achieve a global impact on poverty.
  • Scope: the extension of social protection has built on a multi-dimensional view of poverty and vulnerability. In particular, the focus on children responds to concerns about duration and the inter-generational transfer of poverty.
  • Constraints: chief among these were politics, finance (in low income countries) and delivery capacity. Here he noted that social protection programmes required a range of management, finance and information skills but there was a desperate shortage of training programmes. He suggested that this might be something that the research community can help with.

19.       Points that were raised in the discussion included:

  • The focus was too much on the ‘social’, and not enough on the economic aspects of social protection and the potential for it to stimulate pro-poor growth;
  • Whether the authors still believed that there are no silver bullets to make agriculture socially protecting?
  • Politics can impede social protection e.g. the case of Indian civil servants undermining programmes for dalits and adivasis;
  • The world food crisis represents a major opportunity to move the social protection agenda forward. What could the authors contribute to the current UN summit?
  • Is a return of communist theory necessary for politics to drive social protection and the eradication of poverty?

20.       The authors responses were, in summary:

  • Social protection can impact on poor households’ economic capacity but it is overburdening social protection programmes to expect them to have a dramatic effect on national GDP. Better evidence is needed on the impact of social protection on regional and national markets – ODI has a 3 year programme looking at the linkages between social protection and agricultural growth, using e.g. economic modelling. But reducing risk and vulnerability are important goals in themselves.
  • The national rather than global politics of the food crisis may be more important – and rising food prices make both cash and in-kind transfer programmes more expensive.
  • In Africa, social protection programmes often emerged piecemeal from emergency food relief operations. It would be better to start building long-term social protection programmes now, so that they will be ready to deal with the crises of the future – whether food prices, HIV/AIDS, global warming or something else.
  • While left-wing thinking was often evident at some point in the development of social protection programmes, a return to communism seems unlikely. However, social protection perhaps offers a more coherent challenge to the neo-liberal vision of globalisation than simple “anti-neo-liberalism”.

21. Finally, Armando Barrientos noted that there is a conference on “Social Protection for the Poorest” on 8th-10th September in Uganda. Details can be found at www.chronicpoverty.org.


ODI hosts the launch of this book with Editors Armando Barrientos and David Hulme, who will join a panel discussion with Sam Hickey, Senior Lecturer, Institute for Development Policy and Management , University of Manchester and Rachel Slater, Research Fellow, Protected Livelihoods and Agricultural Growth Programme (PLAG), ODI.