Globally, natural, economic and political disasters and crises are increasing – in ‘frequency, size and duration’ (O’Brien et al., 2018: ii). Emerging experience has shown social protection systems and approaches have considerable potential to ‘bridge the humanitarian–development divide’ (EC, 2019: 11). While there are promising experiences, as a relatively new topic, there is limited practice and evidence, with most of the evidence coming from ‘relatively stable countries prone to natural disasters’ (ibid.: 7).
Shock-responsive social protection
There is growing interest in social protection as a tool to deliver assistance in response to shocks (before or after a crisis starts, preventing, mitigating or addressing the impact of shocks), covering both chronic and acute needs ‘through established, scalable systems’ (Ulrichs & Sabates-Wheeler, 2018: 3).
A growing body of research explores the opportunities for ‘coordination (and possible integration) of humanitarian interventions, disaster risk management (DRM) and social protection’ (O’Brien et al., 2018: ii). There are a range of options for shock-responsive social protection programmes. Most focus and experiences have been on vertical expansion (increasing the benefit value or duration of an existing programme) and some horizontal expansion (adding new beneficiaries to an existing programme) (Ulrichs & Sabates-Wheeler, 2018: 9). Other options include design tweaks, piggybacking, and shadow alignment. See Table 3 for the typology adapted from OPM (2015) and O’Brien et al. (2018) by Ulrichs & Sabates-Wheeler (2018: 9).
Table 3. Typology: Options for shock-responsive adaptation of social protection programmes
Source: Ulrichs and Sabates-Wheeler (2018: 9), reproduced with permission.
Although not the only intervention with potential crossover in crisis and stable contexts, cash transfers are ‘a natural point of convergence’ for social protection and humanitarian programming (Gentilini et al., 2018: 41; Roelen et al., 2018).
Working with social protection in crisis contexts has the potential to contribute to greater effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability by, for example, reducing response times; avoiding duplication between agencies responding to a crisis; strengthening or building national systems; offering choice and dignity; delivering predictable support through established, systematised (often cash-based) channels; supporting local economies; offering a progressive exit strategy from humanitarian aid; and supporting sustainability of impacts and enhancing value for money (EC, 2019: 31). When considering the best approach during a crisis, donors should consider trade-offs between degree of ownership and other dimensions such as timeliness and accountability, and the (financial, institutional and administrative) absorptive capacity of national systems (Gentilini et al., 2018: 39–40). The design and implementation of shock-sensitive approaches should also be informed by ‘a gender and intersectional perspective if programmes are to support positive outcomes for women and girls across the life cycle and minimise any negative effects’ (Holmes, 2019: 5).
European Commission. (2019). Social protection across the humanitarian–development nexus: A game changer in supporting people through crises (Tools and Methods Series, Reference Document 26). Brussels: European Commission.
This reference document provides an overview of global experience and approaches. It identifies challenges and key issues, suggesting key criteria to inform decisions on appropriate response options. The document and its summary were produced as part of the European Commission’s Guidance Package on Social Protection across the Humanitarian–Development Nexus (SPaN).
O’Brien, C., Scott, Z., Smith, G., Barca V., Kardan, A., Holmes, R., Watson, C., & Congrave, J. (2018). Shock-responsive social protection systems research: Synthesis report. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management.
This synthesis report (drawing on six case studies and a review of the literature) highlights the key ways in which social protection systems can contribute to mitigate the effects of shocks or respond to them. It sets out programme design and implementation to achieve an efficient and effective response to crises. It looks at what has been learned so far on how to collaborate successfully between humanitarian, disaster risk management and social protection systems. See full set of outputs (including webinar and video of key findings) from this study in ‘Other resources’ below.
Ulrichs, M., & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2018). Social protection and humanitarian response: What is the scope for integration? (IDS Working Paper 516). Brighton: IDS. This paper lays out the key arguments for more integration between the humanitarian and social protection sectors. It explores potential tensions arising from conflicting mandates and institutional structures. Further work is needed on the technicalities of linking short- and longer-term interventions in humanitarian contexts, particularly in relation to mobile populations and refugees, and on understanding the political economy factors that facilitate bridging the humanitarian–development divide.
Cabot Venton, C. (2018). Economics of resilience to drought in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. USAID Center for Resilience.
Gentilini, U., Laughton, S., & O’Brien, C. (2018). Human(itarian) capital? Lessons on better connecting humanitarian assistance and social protection (Social Protection & Jobs Discussion Paper 1802). World Food Programme & World Bank.
Holmes, R. (2019). Promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in shock-sensitive social protection (ODI Working Paper 549). London: ODI.
Roelen, R., Longhurst, D., & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2018). The role of cash transfers in social protection, humanitarian response and shock-responsive social protection (IDS Working Paper 517). Brighton: IDS.
Video: ‘Social protection in humanitarian contexts’. The challenges of learning from research in fragile contexts and the range of responses. (2018). UNICEF. (2m:57)
Conference/seminar/webinar: Examining the global literature on ‘shock responsive social protection’, proposing a framework for countries to use when assessing their system, alongside practical recommendations and country insights (including a guest session from Malawi). (2019). Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia), World Food Programme, & GIZ Malawi. (1hr:30:50)
Key resource: Oxford Policy Management study on shock-responsive social protection (see Key texts above for link to summary of the main report). Summary of the project and full set of outputs.
Other resources available from this study include:
Conference/seminar/webinar: What role can social protection play in responding to humanitarian emergencies? Findings from a global study. (2018). Oxford Policy Management. (1hr:30:51)
Video: ‘What role can social protection systems play in responding to humanitarian emergencies?’ (2017). Oxford Policy Management. (4m:06)
Protracted conflicts interrupt markets, destroy livelihoods, and increase morbidity and mortality, distress, and forced migration (Winder Rossi et al., 2017: 11). There has been growing interest in the potential of social protection to deliver on two objectives in conflict situations: (1) to ‘address poverty and inequality by transferring resources to those who are poor, marginalized and food insecure’, and (2) to help build institutions, policy and partnerships, thereby supporting peace and building social cohesion (ibid.). Programming choices – and the appropriate balance between social assistance, social insurance, and labour policies and interventions – ‘vary widely in fragile and conflict-affected countries, and depend on the capacity, income, political leadership and enabling environment in the country’ (Ovadiya et al., 2015: 37).
Evidence supporting the role of social protection in building social cohesion – and knowledge of the most effective pathways to achieve this – is scant (Winder Rossi et al., 2017: 11). Nevertheless, measures such as subsidies and cash benefits ‘are widely used in fragile and conflict-affected countries to ease political and social tensions’, including as rewards to population groups following conflict (Ovadiya et al., 2015: 36). Building on community crisis response and supporting service delivery during a transitional phase may be some of the ways to build peace and social cohesion, but further research is required (Winder Rossi et al., 2017: 11).
In conflict situations, government social protection systems are often weak with limited coverage and effectiveness (Carpenter et al., 2012). When ‘the state is an active party to the conflict and does not control all of its territory… even well-developed social protection systems may only be able to reach part of the population’ (Winder Rossi et al., 2017: 32).
Winder Rossi, N., Spano, F., Sabates-Wheeler, R., & Kohnstamm, S. (2017). Social protection and resilience. Supporting livelihoods in protracted crises, fragile and humanitarian context (FAO Position Paper). Rome: FAO & IDS.
This paper builds on the FAO 2017 Social Protection Framework and focuses on the role of social protection systems in humanitarian contexts, looking in particular at protracted crises. It sets out a range of different scenarios which can be used to identify the appropriate social protection intervention strategy, depending on levels of system maturity based on state capacity, and flexibility and capacity to respond.
Ovadiya, M., Kryeziu, A., Masood, S., & Zapatero, E. (2015). Social protection in fragile and conflict-affected countries, trends and challenges (Social Protection & Labor Discussion Paper 1502). Washington, DC: World Bank.
This study examines the role of social protection programming, and programming design and implementation features that are prominent in fragile and conflict-affected states. It sets out ‘how a combination of various fragile and conflict-affected country characteristics affects the needs of the population, the universe of possible policy and programming responses, and – ultimately – the trajectory to building social protection systems in different settings’ (p. 6).
Idris, I. (2017). Conflict-sensitive cash transfers: Social cohesion (K4D Helpdesk Report 201). Brighton: IDS.
The potential of social protection to help forcibly displaced populations is of growing interest. The world is experiencing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, with 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, of which 40 million are internally displaced people, 25.4 million are refugees (over half of whom are under the age of 18), and 3.1 million asylum-seekers (UNICEF, Figures at a Glance: accessed 16 June 2019; Ulrichs et al., 2017: 2). There are a number of opportunities to tailor social protection programming to help reduce low-income labour migrants’, refugees’, and other forcibly displaced peoples’ vulnerabilities, prior to departure, during the journey, upon arrival in a country of destination, and at the point of return (Long & Sabates-Wheeler, 2017: 15). UNHCR (2019: 3) recommends that when refugees cannot access the national system, the ‘starting point should be to align – or use the existing mechanisms – to the extent possible’, while highlighting that the specifics will be determined by the particular context (e.g. in ‘some settings, alignment of the transfer value and the targeting approach may be appropriate while the transfer mechanism is not and vice versa’).
Research in Jordan in 2016 found that regular, predictable UNHCR-delivered cash transfers gave refugees access to secure shelter, reducing their use of negative coping strategies (Ulrichs et al., 2017: 1). However, social protection support to the refugee population functions outside of the national system, which can fuel resentment among the host population if the host community feel refugees are prioritised over them, and can hinder long-term social and economic integration of refugees. The authors found that merging both systems was not politically feasible at the time of the study, but note that ‘policy-makers and practitioners can learn from emerging approaches, such as Turkey’s Emergency Social Safety Net, where the design of the humanitarian cash transfer is modelled closely on the social assistance provided by the Turkish Ministry of Family and Social Policy and therefore has the potential to be merged into a single system in the future’ (Hagen-Zanker et al., 2017: 26).
UNHCR (2019). Aligning humanitarian cash assistance with national social safety nets in refugee settings. Key considerations and learning. Geneva: UNHCR.
Based on information collected from Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Greece and Mexico, and building on a previous UNHCR mapping of the opportunities and challenges in social safety nets for refugees, this UNHCR report sets out recommendations for ‘how operations have or could progressively align humanitarian cash assistance for refugees to national social safety nets (SSN) and the criteria used to take decisions at each step of this process’ (p. 2).
Long, K., & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2017). Migration, forced displacement and social protection (GSDRC Rapid Literature Review). Birmingham: University of Birmingham.
This paper considers the potential role that social protection interventions – or the lack of them – can play in precipitating, directing or halting movement (e.g. from a country of origin without a functioning social protection system). It also considers the various forms of social protection needed by different groups at different stages of their journey and on arrival.
Hagen-Zanker, J., Ulrichs, M., Holmes, R., & Nimeh, Z. (2017). Cash transfers for refugees: The economic and social effects of a programme in Jordan. London: ODI.
This study assesses if the provision of cash transfers to refugees settled in urban areas outside of camps in Jordan reduced barriers to accessing basic services and employment, and whether such transfers can contribute to longer-term economic and social outcomes for displaced populations. An ODI Briefing by Ulrichs et al. (2017) outlines the findings of this study.
Podcast: Access to social protection for internal migrants and the obstacles to adequate coverage. (2015, 18 November). Hagen-Zanker, J. at seminar, part of the Michaelmas term International Migration Institute seminar series on migration and social protection. (32m:43)