UNICEF

Evidence over Ideology: Giving Unconditional Cash in Africa

It is hard to discuss development, poverty and foreign aid without someone mentioning the contentious topic of Universal Basic Income (UBI). Some say it will be the defining issue for the future of poverty and inequity, others say it will never work. But what exactly are the defining features of UBI?

According to the Basic Income Earth Network, “A basic income is a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means-test or work requirement.” In other words, it is a universal, unconditional cash paid over time. UBI is not only a development tool for countries with generalized poverty—UBI pilots are under discussion or have started in places like Oakland (United States), Ontario (Canada) and Utrecht (Netherlands). Whether you love it (see exhibit A, B, C), hate it (see exhibit D, E, F), or are somewhere in between, headlines and debates are clearly not going away anytime soon.

Despite the hype, UBI is not a new concept. In fact, the idea of an unconditional basic income support dates back to the mid-19th century with ‘utopian socialist’ visionaries. Today, giving poor households cash on a regular, predictable basis to use as they wish is already a mainstay of many Governments’ social policies – including (and especially) in countries with mass poverty. In Africa, it is estimated that 40 countries have unconditional cash transfers, a doubling between 2010 and 2014. Proponents of unconditional cash cite similar arguments as UBI enthusiasts—they are simple, cost effective, give beneficiaries dignity and autonomy over use—and they deliver a broad range of poverty- and human capital-related impacts.

…evidence suggests that giving unconditional cash does not cause people to stop working. Instead, evaluations under the Transfer Project suggest that beneficiaries often switch from working in hard day labor agricultural positions, to working on their own farms and small business

There are some important differences between UBI and unconditional cash transfers. For one, UBI is universal—thus inviting moral critiques—should give money to the ‘rich’? Who will pay the price tag? Yet, unconditional cash transfers in Africa commonly use geographical targeting, which mean everyone in a specified area receive benefits—thus programs share functional principles of a UBI. Many of the current debates around UBI hinge on the ‘newness’ or ‘novelty’ of implementation—and critique hypothetical outcomes of such experiments. These debates assume we do not yet know what might happen over time when we give people unconditional cash transfers. However, many of these debates center on core concepts which have been studied for decades in unconditional cash transfer programming. As such, it is curious that these same critiques around giving unconditional cash has been reframed as “controversial.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the critical claims in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, the region currently home for three quarters of world’s ultra-poor. A group called the Transfer Project has been studying large-scale Government unconditional cash transfers for about a decade. They have conducted rigorous evaluations to see how cash changed the behavior of beneficiaries over time—the majority of whom were well below the extreme poverty line. Research using eight evaluations in seven countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) takes a look at some of the ideology:

  1. Cash increases spending on alcohol and tobacco: It is hard to propose giving money to the poor without someone suggesting they will drink it away on booze, or waste it on smokes. The Transfer Project evaluations found no evidence of increased spending on these ‘temptation’ goods. Since poverty and related stress can fuel alcohol use—and unconditional cash has been found to decrease both—this is not an altogether surprising finding.
  2. Cash is a short term ‘Band-Aid’: Perhaps you have heard the saying “if you give a man a fish…” If so, you will be familiar with the critique that the poor might use cash transfers for short-term consumption, without investment in activities which will ultimately allow them to break the cycle of poverty (e.g. “teach a man to fish”). However, evidence shows that individuals use cash also for investment in activities like agriculture, livestock assets, and education for their children – exactly the types of investments which will “feed them for a lifetime.” In fact, impacts on school enrollment among secondary school-aged children were found to be large, in line with impacts found in Latin America where transfers are mostly conditional on schooling.
  3. Cash creates dependency: The age old perception of the ‘lazy’ welfare beneficiary is alive and well. Yet again, evidence suggests that giving unconditional cash does not cause people to stop working. Instead, evaluations under the Transfer Project suggest that beneficiaries often switch from working in hard day labor agricultural positions, to working on their own farms and small business—a switch which improves their welfare. Poor populations have little incentive to stay poor, and giving them an income boost does little to change this.“I am poor but now thanks to cash transfers my family can live a better life. I now feel I can change my life and with the money I receive I will open a restaurant-tea house.” ~ Widowed beneficiary and mother of three children
  4. Fertility will increase: Policymakers love to suggest that unconditional cash transfers, particularly those targeted to families with children will cause an increase in fertility as families try to gain eligibility for benefits. This is not true. The Transfer Project has found no evidence of increases in fertility—in fact in two countries (Kenya and South Africa), it was found that cash transfers actually decreased early pregnancy among young women and adolescent girls. Let us not assume that giving support to poor households will result in the next baby boom.
  5. Cash will have negative impacts on local markets: Critics have also flagged the potential negative community-level impacts of giving cash, including price inflation. The Transfer Project found that cash created beneficial spill overs in the local economy ranging from $1.27 to $2.52 USD generated for every dollar transferred, with no evidence of inflation. Instead of hurting the local economy, transferring cash stimulated community markets and economic development.
  6. There is a lot that cash can do, but it is not a silver bullet – families will always need health, education and other social services – problems which cannot be solved by giving cash. However, none of the common myths examined here seem to hold up in the face of hard evidence. While ideology (and politics) will always play a role, we must ensure information is clearly accessible and actionable for policy makers in order for evidence to win over ideology.

    There are many challenges head in the UBI debate, but let us not make the mistake of inventing the wheel—after decades of research on unconditional cash transfers—we have learned many things. Let us also not forget that while the UBI frenzy overtakes the international scene, in settings of generalized poverty, Governments are already giving regular, predictable, unconditional cash to families—to use as they wish to improve their own lives.

    “Hunger pushed me to beg. Since I started to receive the cash transfer I no longer have to. I feel happier. Before, when I was in the street, my neighbours would turn away fearing that I would ask them for food; now they greet me.”  ~ Elderly beneficiary, Ethiopia.

     

    [A new Innocenti Research Brief by the blog authors: Mythbusting? How research is refuting common perceptions about unconditional cash transfers conveys this evidence in a simple, easy-to-understand format.]

    Amber Peterman is social policy specialist with the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti. Silvio Daidone his an econometrician with FAO. The Transfer Project is a multi-organizational initiative of UNICEF, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Save the Children UK and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in collaboration with national governments, and other national and international researchers. For  the full working paper see: Handa S, Daidone S, Peterman A, Davis B, Pereira A, Palermo T, and J Yablonski on behalf of the Transfer Project (2017). “Myth busting? Confronting Six Common Perceptions about Unconditional Cash Transfers as a Poverty Reduction Strategy in Africa” UNICEF Office of Research—Innocenti Working Paper 2017-11.

World Family Organization: 70 Years and still going strong! Celebrating the International Day of Families, Monday 15th May

Written by Rachel Aird, Chairperson of The Family Africa and Member of the Executive Board of the WFO.

 

The Family Africa celebrated the International Day of Families on Monday May 15th as well as  the World Family Organization 70th Anniversary as it was formed by member nations of the United Nations in 1947.  The Chairperson of the Family Africa, Mrs Rachel Aird is also on the Executive Board of the WFO and so we wanted to make the day very special.

This year’s observance of the International Day of Families focuses on the role of families and family-oriented policies in promoting education and overall well-being of their members. In particular, the Day was to raise awareness of the role of families in promoting early childhood education and lifelong learning opportunities for children and youth.  We wanted to also raise awareness of the WFO’s work both now and over the last 70 years.

The event was attended by 6 different organizations and 120 people. Rachel shared a powerpoint on what the International day of families means and why WFO was started by the UN and 27 member countries and the importance of its work worldwide. There was a discussion about what makes up a family, different types of families and also how families can encourage early education and lifelong learning which was lively and extremely worthwhile.  We had songs and poems from the adults and children and each organization made a speech about what their organisations do for families in the community.

The Family Africa then presented  local families  with recognition awards and “buckets of love” (buckets filled with toiletries, blankets or thermal clothing) to each of the winners. The stories from the individuals themselves and from Rachel about why these families had been chosen were extremely touching.  One woman who won the award for families living with disability has cared for her severely mentally and physically handicapped child alone for 14 years unable to work and with virtually no income, carrying him on her back to fetch food from our centre.  She has now found him a special school and pays the fees through selling solar lamps and clothes on the streets. Another award winner came to The Family Africa in a wheel chair crippled from TB of the spine, wheeling through the mud in the pouring rain, begging for adult nappies. The doctors said she would never walk again but now she is not only healthy and walking but also one of the leaders of our TB support group. Another winner was a grandmother who cares for 7 orphans and yet another was the head of a child headed household who is still managing to attend school.  All of them are real “family heroes”.

The winners of the art competition on “My Family” were then announced and the children received their “black box surprise” prizes (full of chocolates, crisps and toys). The event ended with lunch served to all 130 people (somehow we had more people by the time came lunch came around J).   A wonderful day, a successful event , a heart- warming coming together of families celebrating our differences and our desire for the warmth and comfort of a family and our desire to make the world a better place for all families “leaving no family behind”.

Save the Youth Madagascar: An affiliate of The Family Africa

The activities this past month have been very varied, due to so many needs around us as well as many ongoing projects.

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Leilani and some of our friends have started to do paint murals on the walls of the dormitories of the orphanage CBA, to make them inspiring and cheer up the children. These young people are really sweet and have a heart to help the poor children and we really enjoy their partnership.

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Due to the cold weather, the coldest winter since we have been here, we kept on distributing winter clothes around us, as well as blankets to the young minors of the jail, who don’t have any warm clothes and are suffering from the cold at night as the temperature get close to zero at times.

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The children of the CBA orphanage continue to go to the dentist and it will probably take some time as they are about 60 of them, who never had a dentist checkup in their lives !

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We have been able to buy monthly food sucid:image004.jpg@01D1E80A.27FBDEB0pplies to the CBA orphanage, allowing us at the same time to cook them a very nice meal, of which they are always very thankful. This does not cover all their needs, of course, but it helps a lot and brings variety and improvement to their diet.

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Our work continues with the minors of the jail, who are living in very difficult conditions, especially during the winter. Every month, we are able to bring them food for their body as well as for their soul. This month, the story was about a young prisoner exiled in Siberia, and the different lessons of love, applying God’s Word to our lives and forgiveness. Some of the young people are quite rough, but we trust the Lord that the seeds we plant into their hearts will one day yield lasting fruit.

The construction work of the 2 schools is progressing, slowly but surely. It is amazing the obstacles that we find on our way here, each time we do some construction projects : the last ones being sand mixed with mud, the contractor forgetting to include many important details, like the cost of materials for doors and windows, as well as the ceiling, etc…. We always wonder if there will be more each time we meet him.

Through the fundraising and materials collecting, we have been able to meet new friends and donors. We met our last donor at another’s donor’s place where we were collecting iron rods. He just donated enough funds to build school tables and benches for 200 children who will be attending one of the schools we are helping

Source: The Family Africa

The Family Africa

What a wonderful Youth Day with about 50 plus volunteers cele­brating Youth Day with us at our centre. Volunteers from Cosmo Christian Centre, ranging in age from 12 to 18 yrs spent 8 hours with us. We divided them into different teams, cooking, gardening, clean­ing the playground and playing with the children. They all did an amazing job keeping the kids occupied and happy all day and serving them a lovely meal. We also had time to conduct a interactive HIV awareness programme with them so that they would understand the nature and devastating impact of HIV in South Africa. Our brief from the youth leaders was to help these teens, who come from privileged backgrounds, understand what it is like to live in a squatter camp so part of the programme was to take groups right into the heart of the squatter camp and do a home visit for one of our support group mem­bers. When they was the conditions she lived in with no electricity, running water or even windows for security reasons – a half blind sick woman enduring terrible conditions – many of them were moved to tears. (We did not take photos of the shack and the lady because we felt it would be intrusive.) The teens went away with a different per­spective on their lives, which has made them feel more appreciative of what they have. We look forward to seeing them again in the not too distant future.

The Family Africa Blanket Drive is going well with blan­kets pouring in.
This week YFM Radio Presenters, staff and friends brought over 100 lovely blankets to distribute to our Free Day Care Centre and our orphan group. Everyone was thrilled.

Don’t forget Mandela Day

Mandela Day is Monday, July 18th.
Where ever you are spend 67 minutes reaching out to others to celebrate his life.
*: The Family Africa is a NGO and WFO Member that brings real hope for the future to thousands of people from previously disadvantaged groups in South Africa.

The organization’s work follow a holistic approach to welfare involving the mind, body and spirit. To this end we work on three levels:

1. Short Term: Immediate relief through feeding schemes, provision of clothing and blankets and response to local disasters.

2. Medium term: Education and training including basic skills training, HIV/AIDS awareness programmes in primary and secondary schools and the production of materials to assist prevention and promote attitude change.

3. Long Term: Spiritual, emotional and psychological support.