Ethiopia: Combined social interventions key for poverty reduction
Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) operates a dual system which “effectively integrates public works and unconditional transfers in one programme”, and is a unique policy initiative relevant for other countries, such as the IBSA countries of India, Brazil and South Africa, to learn from and take account of.
Integrating Public Works and Cash Transfers in Ethiopia: Implications for Social Protection, Employment and Decent Work, a new report by Maikel Liew-Kie-Song and published by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth of the United Nations Development Programme, provides an extensive overview of the PSNP, a social policy program targeting chronically food-insecure households in famine-prone rural areas of Ethiopia. Started in 2005, the program currently has approximately 8 million beneficiaries in 1.5 million households, an equivalent to 10 percent of the population.
The PSNP is unique in that the direct cash transfer and public works programmes are combined into a single programme providing transfers to household irrespective of whether they are capable of providing labour. This “offer[s] much greater flexibility to tailor the programme to the changing characteristics of the household”, as “transfer from one instrument to the other can be done easily without resistance from the beneficiaries being moved”. For people who temporarily cannot work, due to for example maternity, illness or temporary disabilities, the transfer from public works to direct cash transfer is simple and effortless.
A labour cap introduced to the PSNP limits the number of hours that adults in labour-constrained households may work to 15 days a month, and for no more than six months a year. It was introduced to provide households the opportunity to not spend excessive amounts of time on the programme and focus on other livelihood activities instead; however, the report points out that “for households whose other livelihood options are limited and that have a food gap of more then six months, this cap may be extremely limiting”.
The report addresses the wide-ranging debate of whether the PSNP is an employment or a social protection programme. The arguments are important, as the perceived orientation of the programme may lead to the emphasis of certain characteristics only, which may in turn have important potential policy consequences. Liew-Kie-Song discusses PSNP from an employment and decent-work perspective, arguing that The PSNP has “important positive implications for decent work in Ethiopia” through the focus on “productive work, income security and the introduction of basic standards, rights and levels of formalization at work”. He then defines the PSNP within the framework of both a social protection and an employment programme.
The PSNP has important wider implications, as countries devising social transfers and public works programmes can draw on the Ethiopian experience and combine the two. For example India, currently sporting the largest public employment programme in the world, may wish to consider whether cash transfers should be used as a complementary tool for reaching out to labour-constrained rural households. On the other hand, for Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, which is the largest conditional cash transfer programme in South America, the question may arise whether a public employment programme may act as a complement. Finally, whereas South Africa currently implements the largest cash transfer and public works programmes in Africa, it may be asked to what extent these are complementary, and what additional benefits would emerge if they were more so.
By Jenny Maukola, IPC-IG
Integrating Public Works and Cash Transfers in Ethiopia: Implications for Social Protection, Employment and Decent Work
Full Study: Working Paper #84
Short Version: One Pager #132