ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Case for Reframing the Cash Transfer Debate in India

Cash transfers are now suggested by many as a silver bullet for addressing the problems that plague India's anti-poverty programmes. This article argues instead for evidence-based policy and informed public debate to clarify the place, prospects and problems of cash transfers in India. By drawing on key empirical findings from academic and grey literature across the world an attempt is made to draw attention to three aspects of cash transfers - design, implementation and impact. The article examines which instruments function the best and for what goals, what the broader context is in which these interventions are embedded, and what the difficulties associated with their implementation are.

Brazil's Bolsa Família: A Review

After describing the origin, the main features and some of the impacts of Bolsa Família, a conditional cash transfer family welfare programme that has become one of Brazil's showpiece achievements, this essay discusses the changes in the programme over time as well as the current and future challenges. The article outlines the circumstances that led to its adoption by the federal government and how its final design was influenced by all "competing views", rather than by the thinking of a specific interest group. Bolsa Família has demonstrated a flexibility to adapt to the needs of the times, a quality that should stand it in good stead in the years to come.

Impact of Biometric Identification-Based Transfers

The National Food Security Bill, as drafted by the National Advisory Council, contains various reforms to reduce theft. However, the track record of previous legislation does not inspire confidence that the proposed reforms will be sufficient to ensure secure access to food for those who need it. This article spells out a biometric-based identification mechanism for cash transfers and evaluates its possible impact on the percentage of the transfer reaching the poorest fraction of the population.

Mexico's Targeted and Conditional Transfers: Between Oportunidades and Rights

Oportunidades, Mexico's conditional cash transfer programme, which is linked to the education of children of a certain age and provision of health services, is often described as an outstanding success. In 2011 it will cover 5.8 million families. But Oportunidades warrants a critical analysis for its "conditions" deny any autonomy to the poor and the scheme is based on a system of rewards and punishment which assumes that the poor do not know what they want. Its record in reducing income poverty has also been limited. More can be learnt from recent modifications that cover the hitherto excluded, the very young children and the senior citizens. However, it is new proposals of a basic income transfer - universal, to individuals and without conditions - that hold out more promise.

Conditional Cash Transfers as a Tool of Social Policy

The design of public cash transfers involves a careful balancing of policy priorities and objectives. Variations in the rationale for a conditional cash transfer shape benefit amounts, coverage, duration of programme participation, targeting practices and the definition of conditionality. Drawing on the experience of low- and middle-income countries in Latin America, this article highlights differences in the design of CCTs and the central issues and trade-offs associated with income transfers, targeting and conditionality. It also reviews the evidence on the impact of CCTs on income poverty, service utilisation and outcomes in education and health.

PDS Forever?

There is a case to be made for cash transfers replacing the sale of food through the public distribution system. This article argues that cash transfers offer many advantages over in-kind food transfers, and that their design can address potential pitfalls pointed out by critics. The more salient of such objections are discussed, and models for implementing cash transfers based on existing technology and infrastructure are proposed. However, in conclusion, it is recommended that instead of centralised dismantling of the public distribution system, the decision on the means of delivery should be left to the states.

The Shift to Cash Transfers: Running Better But on the Wrong Road?

The Government of India has announced that subsidies on fertilisers, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas will be replaced by cash transfers to end users. A close examination of the objectives of the subsidies in fertiliser and kerosene and the implications of the shift raises some challenging questions. While there is no doubt that India will have to move to a greater use of cash transfers, it may not necessarily be the best option in all cases. Unless discussions on transfers are part and parcel of a broader strategy, any changes in favour of cash transfers will simply amount to tactical differences and not address longterm challenges.
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