As the global urban population increases and poverty urbanises, it becomes increasingly important to understand how to make social protection work in urban settings. Most social assistance programmes in low- and middle-income countries have hitherto been conceived for rural areas. The scope and focus of interventions can change quite remarkably depending on whether poverty is expressed in prevalence or absolute terms, i.e. areas where poverty rates are highest (generally rural areas) or areas with the highest number of poor people (often urban areas). Urban areas pose fundamentally different sets of opportunities and challenges for social protection. Social protection programmes are at the very beginning of a process of urban adaptation (Gentilini, 2015).
Designing social assistance for urban contexts faces challenges and the initial performance of first-generation urban interventions seems to have been lower than predicted because of the range of technical hurdles (ibid.: 12). These include: accurately targeting the urban poor (‘given the spatial geography of urban poverty’ and the ‘fluid expansion and contraction of urban informal settlements’); reaching and communicating with prospective beneficiaries about available benefits (e.g. because of high mobility or being homeless) and setting appropriate payment levels (given the high and variable costs of urban living) (Devereux et al., 2018: 4; Gentilini, 2015: 12). Moreover, ‘even when people are reached, programs may not be attractive enough to offset relatively high urban opportunity costs or address particular bottlenecks’ (e.g. for older people or seasonal migrants) (ibid.: 12). Some countries have gradually refined their programmes and adapted their approaches to fit complex urban contexts (ibid.).
Majoor and Pelham (2018: 35) highlight that understanding how social protection may be used in urban contexts to respond to shocks requires a typology of different urban contexts (from rapid-onset shocks to protracted displacement), as well as a need to understand how protection and gender concerns in both access to and use of cash will differ in urban areas compared to rural contexts.
Devereux, S., Abdulai, A-G., Cuesta, J., Gupte, J., Ragno, L., Roelen, K., Sabates–Wheeler, R., & Spadafora, T. (2018). Can social assistance (with a child lens) help in reducing urban poverty in Ghana? Evidence, challenges and way forward (Innocenti Working Paper). Florence: UNICEF Office of Research.
This paper provides a case study of Ghanaian experiences of providing social assistance in urban areas focused on an analysis of the country’s flagship social protection programme, Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP). The authors note that experience with urban social assistance programmes is still limited, and fewer poor households are reached by social protection in urban than in rural areas.
Majoor, H., & Pelham, L. (2018). Using social protection mechanisms to respond to urban shocks. In Humanitarian response in urban areas. Humanitarian Exchange, 71. London: Humanitarian Practice Network, ODI.
This article documents lessons from an attempt to use social protection approaches in a simulation exercise involving a large urban emergency in Dhaka. This experience revealed that ‘much more research’ is needed to understand the role of social protection in urban humanitarian crises. The authors caution that due to the required ‘significant investment in time, capacity and financing… it is still unclear whether social protection can be responsive enough to meet the needs of large-scale, rapid-onset shocks in urban areas’ (p. 32).
Gentilini, U. (2015). Entering the city: Emerging evidence and practices with safety nets in urban areas (Social Protection & Labor Discussion Paper 1504). Washington, DC: World Bank.
As the global urban population increases and poverty urbanises, there is an increased urgency to understand how to make safety nets work in urban settings. This paper discusses the process of urbanisation, the peculiar features of urban poverty, and emerging experiences with urban safety net programmes. It finds that urban areas pose fundamentally different sets of opportunities and challenges for social protection, and that safety net programmes are at the very beginning of a process of urban adaptation.
Article/blog: Gentilini, U. (2015). What we know and need to know about safety net programmes in urban areas. World Bank.
Article/blog: The Economist. (2018). Extending the safety-net in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s scheme to help the poor is setting an example.