New research calls for focus on social assistance in protracted crises

Published on 7 February 2022

Globally, the number of crises lasting five years or more – has proliferated in recent decades. Yet, responses to these crises continue to be dominated by humanitarian assistance in response to short-term shocks. The Better Assistance in Crises (BASIC) Research programme is launching a series of papers and briefs that highlight the need for research to inform the design and delivery of more effective social assistance* as a response to the needs of chronically poor populations living in places affected by long-term crises.

Funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, BASIC Research explores how international, national, and local actors can work together in crisis settings to strengthen commitments and effectively, efficiently, and sustainably provide social assistance to those in need.

The first paper in the series by Jeremy Lind, a lead researcher of the programme is “Politics and Governance of Social Assistance in Crises from the Bottom Up”, which highlights the significance of sub-national and local-level agency in how social assistance is targeted, taxed, diverted, and shared. Key findings from the paper are also summarised in a theme briefing. On these findings, Jeremy explains:

“There has been a growing interest in how to bring together social protection, humanitarian and climate actors to improve responses to protracted crises. However, the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan, conflict in Ethiopia, and increasing violence in the Sahel has been a reminder that transitions to nationally led social protection are often not smooth or simple.”

“BASIC Research will generate evidence, critical perspectives and practical insights that inform governments, funders, practitioners and advocates trying to improve how people get assistance in crises,” Jeremy added.

Other papers explore themes around climate resilience, cash and livelihoods and forced displacement. These will be shared widely with researchers, practitioners and funders working at the interface between social protection, climate adaptation and humanitarian assistance.

BASIC Research will collaborate with partners and networks in February and March to launch the collection of papers and briefs through a series of events and online discussions. Join BASIC Research on 3 March for an IDS launch seminar. The outputs will also be shared via the new LinkedIn page that will profile the research and evidence emerging over the programme, and provide updates on key BASIC Research events and updates.

Providing social assistance to those in need

These papers highlight the priority areas and directions for BASIC Research. The programme will continue to develop deeper insights into the politics and financing of social assistance and three crosscutting areas: climate and livelihood resilience, inclusion and participation, and systems for design and delivery.

Politics and financing of social assistance

Prevailing perspectives on the politics of social protection are largely limited to stable settings and do not consider relationships with humanitarian channels and providers of cash assistance, especially at the sub-national level. Efforts to expand social assistance systems must address the problems that non-state and/or non-recognised authorities pose for policy processes. Future research needs to understand: How can international actors support sustained financing and effective coordination of social assistance in protracted crises?

Climate and livelihood resilience

Despite sparse evidence that social assistance can build long-term resilience to climate change, there are increasing efforts to experiment with cash-plus approaches in protracted crises. This shift indicates a desire to link social assistance policy and programming with efforts to strengthen livelihoods. The research asks: In what ways can social assistance in crises effectively contribute to climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods?

Inclusion and participation

There are many barriers that prevent social assistance from meeting the needs of excluded and vulnerable people in crises. These blockages can relate to administrative procedures, technology, language, physical security, political exclusion, and self-exclusion, among other things. BASIC Research will consider: How can social assistance in crises be more accountable and responsive to gender, age, disability, displacement status, and other vulnerabilities that intersect with these?

Systems for delivery

Building or strengthening systems for delivery is widely recognised as a key element of routine, effective and efficient provision of social assistance. However, the elements, approaches, and systems that work best are poorly understood in situations of protracted crisis. BASIC researchers will be exploring: On an operational level, how can the design and delivery of social assistance be more resilient, sensitive, and responsive in crisis?

For updates on the launch of BASIC Research’s first series of papers and briefs, follow the new LinkedIn page.

*Social assistance is usually cash, food or another type of asset which is provided to households or individuals. They tend to be given by governments, NGOs, UN agencies or financial service providers and are usually funded through taxation or donors.


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The Politics of Social Assistance in Crises

BASIC Research Theme Brief

7 February 2022