Direct Cash Transfers as an Antipoverty Instrument for the Extreme and Chronic Poor

Submitting Institution

University of Manchester

Unit of Assessment

Anthropology and Development Studies

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Economics: Applied Economics, Econometrics
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration

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Summary of the impact

Research undertaken at the University of Manchester (UoM) has made a major contribution to understanding the role and significance of direct cash transfers as financially and politically sustainable instruments, essential in addressing extreme and chronic poverty in low and middle income countries. Research findings, outputs and related uptake activities have: stimulated, supported and led global research on antipoverty transfers; shaped policy thinking within the development community (e.g. DFID, HelpAge International); influenced national governments (e.g. UK, Sweden) and informed practice in several countries (e.g. Uganda, Bangladesh).

Underpinning research

This case is based on research undertaken at the Institute for Development Policy and Management at UoM (2001-date). The key researchers are: Professors Armando Barrientos (2001-5, 2007-), David Hulme (1985-) and Sam Hickey (2001-). The research was instigated via a grant from the Department for International Development (DFID) — `Non-contributory Pensions and Poverty Prevention' (£200K; 2001-3), with additional funding secured via: UoM's DFID funded Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC; 2005-10); UoM's Brooks World Poverty Institute (BWPI); the ESRC funded `Ageing, well-being and development; a comparative study of Brazil and South Africa' (2008-2011); and as one of five programme areas within DFID's `Effective States and Inclusive Development' (ESID) programme.

The research initially examined the role of non-contributory pension programmes in addressing poverty for households with older members. Research during phases 1 and 2 of CPRC — an international partnership of universities, research institutes and NGOs — extended the focus to all forms of direct transfers to poor households, recognising that the chronically poor were often excluded on the basis they are too hard to reach. The research demonstrated the effectiveness of non-contributory pension programmes in reducing extreme and chronic poverty, and has been especially influential in generating wider policy relevant knowledge on the political, economic, and institutional dimensions of antipoverty transfers. In summary, the research reveals that: direct antipoverty transfers are a practical, politically sustainable, and financially feasible means to address extreme and chronic poverty in low and middle income countries:

  • Properly designed and implemented, antipoverty transfers strengthen the productive capacity of households, supporting their political and economic inclusion. They are also effective in addressing long term, structural, and persistent poverty, with regular and reliable transfers enabling households to improve the allocation of their productive resources. [B][C][D]
  • Direct antipoverty transfers to older people in low and middle income countries reduce poverty and help address the challenges of rapid population ageing. [A][B][E].
  • Antipoverty transfers in low and middle income countries are best understood and promoted as institutions that can embed emerging social contracts and fiscal pacts, and are essential to support sustainable development. This entails the need for donors to understand the politics of social protection and to shape their assistance accordingly. [A][D]

References to the research

(all references available upon request — AUR)

The research has been published in leading peer reviewed journals, with [C] (a summary of an academic book) the most downloaded article in Oxford Development Studies in 2011.

[A] (2012) Niño-Zarazúa, M., Barrientos, A., Hulme, D. & Hickey, S. "Social Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa: Getting the Politics Right" World Development 40(1) 163-176 (REF 2014) doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2011.04.004


[B] (2012) Barrientos, A. "Social Transfers and Growth: What do we know? What do we need to find out?" World Development 40(1) 11-20 (REF 2014) doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2011.05.012


[C] (2009) Barrientos, A., Hulme, D. "Commentary: Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest in Developing Countries: Reflections on a Quiet Revolution" Oxford Development Studies 37(4) 439-456 doi:10.1080/13600810903305257


[D] (2008) Barrientos, A., Hulme, D. (eds.) Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest: Concepts, Policies and Politics London: Palgrave (especially Ch. 13: Hickey, S. "Conceptualising the Politics of Social Protection in Africa") AUR

[E] (2003) Barrientos, A., Gorman, M. & Heslop, A. "Old Age Poverty in Developing Countries: Contributions and Dependence in Later Life" World Development 31(3) 555-570 doi:10.1016/S0305-750X(02)00211-5


Details of the impact

Context: Researchers and policy makers have traditionally viewed direct transfers in cash as a tool that worked best in addressing short term poverty, smoothing out the impact of hazards on household consumption (e.g. World Bank's Social Risk Management Strategy). This research demonstrates that transfer programmes reaching people in extreme and chronic poverty can also be effective, through raising their consumption and strengthening their productive capacity.

Pathways to Impact: The research has engaged governments, the development community and academia at a national and international level. In addition to publications in leading journals, outputs have been disseminated through international conferences, the production of accessible resources for practitioners and the general public, and through direct advisory work.

1. Subsequent to the international conference `Social Protection for Chronic Poverty Risk, Needs and Rights — Protecting What? How?' (2005), UoM (and partners) organised two major conferences where research was disseminated, and research users (policy makers and practitioners) were engaged: `Social Protection for the Poorest in Africa: Learning from Experience' (Kampala, Uganda, 2008); and `Ten Years of War Against Poverty: What we have learned since 2000 and what we should do 2010-2020?' (Manchester, 2010).

2. The research has produced two key sources on antipoverty transfers facilitating outreach to non-academic audiences. Firstly, the research was published in an accessible format within the book Just Give Money to the Poor: the Development Revolution from the Global South which has figured prominently in international and national policy dialogue on antipoverty transfers, and featured in the Guardian's shortlist of key development studies texts for first-year students [1]. Secondly, the `Social Assistance in Developing Countries Database' has become a widely used and cited evidence source on antipoverty transfer programmes for both researchers and practitioners, and builds on the work of the CPRC in encouraging more countries and agencies to disaggregate data in their poverty analyses, further recognising the chronically poor and persistently vulnerable [2].

3. The research has been influential through advisory work on antipoverty transfers. The researchers have contributed directly to national government policy — for instance leading a feasibility study for the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment Programme (SAGE) pilot phase in Uganda — and have provided advice to the Governments of Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Chile, Mozambique, Zambia, Bangladesh and Uganda, amongst others. Advice is also regularly given to multilateral and bilateral agencies (e.g. DFID, World Bank, UNICEF, ILO, FAO, ISSA, WHO, UNDESA, EU, and the Caribbean Development Bank) with UoM researchers providing capacity building to officials from UNICEF, DFID, ILO, FAO, WFP, and GTZ.

Key Impacts: The impact of this research has been twofold. Firstly, in raising awareness and understanding of the essential role of direct antipoverty transfers in reducing global poverty among policy makers and the general public. Secondly, via the development of a knowledge base to demonstrate that direct antipoverty transfers are financially and politically sustainable in low to middle income countries. The research has shaped policy debates in three arenas:

[I] Shaping UK policy thinking and practice on antipoverty transfers: In June 2010, the book Just Give Money to the Poor — conceived by the authors as a tome `that a Minister could read on a 4 hour flight' — was instrumental in persuading the incoming government to commit to expanding their support for antipoverty transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. At the request of DFID's Director of Policy, advanced copies were circulated within DFID. This followed a Guardian article by Aditya Chakrabortty on the role of antipoverty transfers based on UoM research "...the world of aid turned upside down" [3] and a follow-up letter to the Guardian from the Secretary of State for International Development (Andrew Mitchell MP), who affirmed that the new government "will explore using cash transfers more often" in UK efforts to eliminate poverty, further outlining that: "The new government is determined to give people in developing countries more power over their own lives. I've seen for myself in Ethiopia just how effective this approach can be. Thanks to rigorous evaluations, we know that giving very small sums of money can enable poor people to invest in small businesses, increase their productivity and send their children to school. That's why my department will explore using cash transfers more often, where appropriate. Methods like this will go alongside our work to build capable and effective states" [3]. Subsequently, the key message of the book, on the role of direct antipoverty transfers in addressing extreme and chronic poverty, received extended media coverage. It was the `Idea of the Day' in the New York Times, and was covered by the Boston Globe and the Economist, amongst other publications [1]. The research was also picked up by a number of radio outlets, including an interview with Barrientos on the BBC World Service radio programme Newshour, in a slot entitled `Affording Old Age' (a special edition for `Pensions Day').

[II] Shaping international policy and practice on antipoverty transfers: The research has been influential in informing policy and policy priorities among several UN Agencies, bilateral and INGOs, including: on the politics of social protection; on the need to promote more sustainable and institutionalised forms of assistance in developing countries; and on social assistance for the elderly. Impact has been threefold. Firstly, through collaboration and citation. As the Director of Strategic Development for HelpAge International confirms: "CPRC's work helped to inform HelpAge International, in our work on the adoption of cash transfer programmes, specifically in our case universal basic pensions, by developing country governments as a means to address chronic and extreme poverty". This included the co-authorship of a HelpAge briefing document `Pensions, poverty and wellbeing' [4]. Other examples include Barrientos providing an `overview synthesis' for the 2010 ILO report `Extending Social Security to All'; collaboration with UNRISD for the flagship report `Combating Poverty and Inequality' (2009-2010), providing a thematic paper `Social Protection and Poverty'; citation (alongside Hickey and Hulme) in the 2010 European Communities Development Report `Social Protection for Inclusive Development'; and the provision of a short piece for the 2010 IPC-IG (UNDP) publication `Can Social Protection Help Promote Inclusive Growth?' [5]. Secondly, research has been employed through direct consultation, including Barrientos' background paper for the UN High Level Panel Report on the post 2015 development agenda [6]. Thirdly, the work has been discussed via contributions to high-level conferences, such as the UN Commission for Social Development's 50th Session [7].

[III] Shaping national government policy and practice on antipoverty transfers: The researchers have engaged with several national governments based on the cited research. In Uganda the Minister of Finance, in his closing speech to the 2008 CPRC International Conference `Social Protection for the Poorest in Africa: Learning from Experience', announced the implementation of a pilot antipoverty transfer programmes (SAGE program) and acknowledged the role of UoM research. Consequently, a country-level `Social Protection Working Group' was formed to support this initiative, and facilitate public and political dialogue on social protection. As noted by a former DFID Senior Officer (now UNICEF): "[the] conference held in 2008 played a key role in exposing Government and civil society to international evidence of the success and implementation of cash transfer programmes. This led to the adoption by the Government of Uganda of a cash transfer programme targeting 14 districts and a target group of over 600,000 people with a focus on groups identified as chronically poor, from 2010 onwards" [8]. The largest social assistance programme in the country was also revised in its second phase to include a stronger role for local government as a result of CPRC research, with the phrase `chronically poor' now seen a part of the political lexicon.

In Bangladesh the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has enlisted BWPI to support the Government of Bangladesh in reforming and reorganizing the existing social protection system. As the UNDP Resident Representative confirms: "The contribution of the Manchester team has been one of the most significant. I would specifically highlight: First... local and global research on the role and effectiveness of social protection... has informed and spurred Government interest, and helped to foster a consensus among civil society actors for the need for change. Second... direct technical inputs... Third, their co-development of the Action Plan for Building a National Social Protection Strategy (March 2012)... led the Government to convene a cross-ministerial committee to develop the national strategy, and has defined the preparation efforts which are now underway". Additionally, CPRC research informed the design and implementation of the DFID funded `Chars Livelihoods Programme' for the chronically poor with research findings on the importance of intergenerational transmission (alongside local media interest) leading the Minister of Education to increase the size of the stipend by 40%. Similarly, in the new state of Southern Sudan, a plan has been approved for a US$2 per month grant to all children born on or after the 2006 Peace Accord date until their 16th birthday [9].

The work of Barrientos and colleagues has also impacted on the practices of civil society groups in the West, magnifying the scope for future impact. For instance, engagement with the Church of Sweden helped informed the Swedish Government in its work on social protection; as their policy advisor attests: "the research... undertaken at BWPI led directly to an improved understanding among Church of Sweden... In particular, BWPI collaborated with the Church of Sweden in producing a briefing paper on social protection and the post-2015 development agenda and in briefing staff at the Swedish Minister of international development on the evidence based around social protection. This contributed to raising the profile of cash transfers and social protection... of strategic importance since the Swedish minister was a member of the UN High level panel on the post MDG development agenda" [10].

Sources to corroborate the impact

(all claims referenced in the text)

[1] Pathways: (2010) Hanlon, J., Barrientos, A. & Hulme, D. Just Give Money to the Poor: the Development Revolution from the Global South (New York: Kumarian Press); (2011) `Development Studies: Key First-year Reads', The Guardian (21st September); (2010) `Idea of the Day: Giving Money Directly to the Poor', New York Times (1st July); (2010) Bennett, D. `Here's an Idea for Foreign Aid: Just Hand over the Cash' The Boston Globe (18th July); (2010) `Anti-poverty Programmes: Give Money to the Poor' The Economist (29th July); (2010) `Newshour: Affording Old Age' BBC World Service (14th September)

[2] (2010) Barrientos, A., Niño-Zarazúa, M. & Maitrot, M. `Social Assistance in Developing Countries Database' (v. 5.0). Available from several websites including the Social Science Research Network (537 downloads)

[3] (2010) `A revolution in global aid to the poor' & `Cash in hand for the developing world — Letter from Secretary of State for International Development' The Guardian (29th/30th June)

[4] Testimonial from Director of Policy, HelpAge International (11th June 2013); (2012), Barrientos, A. & Lloyd-Sherlock, P. `Pensions, Poverty and Wellbeing: The Impact of Pensions in South Africa and Brazil, A Comparative Study'

[5] Citations: (2010) ILO `World Social Security Report 2010/11' (p.75) & `Extending Social Security to All: A Guide through Challenges and Options' (Part II, passim); (2010) Barrientos, A. `Social Protection and Poverty' UNRISD Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 42 (January) & UNRISD citations list; (2010) European Report on Development `Social Protection for Inclusive Development' (pp. 20,43,51,52,68,100,101); (2010) Barrientos, A. `The Boundaries of Social Protection' in `Can Social Protection Help Promote Inclusive Growth?' in Poverty in Focus #22 (IPC-IG)

[6] (2013) Barrientos, A `Inequality, Poverty, and Antipoverty Transfers: Background Research Paper Submitted to the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (May) & (2013) United Nations `A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty And Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development' (May)

[7] (2012) Barrientos, A. `Social Protection and Poverty: Achievements and Challenges' Presentation 50th session, UN Commission for Social Development (1st February)

[8] Testimonial from former DFID Senior Officer, Uganda (8th June 2013); (2011) DFID `Meeting Note: CPRC Project Completion Report' Internal Document (18th January)

[9] Testimonial by UNDP Resident Representative, Bangladesh (1st September 2013) & (2011) Shepherd, A. `Tackling Chronic Poverty: The Policy Implications of Research on Chronic Poverty and Poverty Dynamics' Manchester, CPRC (p.52)

[10] Testimonial from Policy Adviser (International Dept.), Church of Sweden (20th June 2013)