Several chapters in this book have analyzed the impacts of social transfers on children’s wellbeing. Convincing empirical evidence has been presented supporting claims that children in households in receipt of regular cash grants benefit in material ways, through improved food consumption and nutrition, access to education and health services, and–usually–reduced child labor (see chapters by Hoddinott et al. on Ethiopia, Miller et al. on Malawi and Samson et al. on South Africa).
One critique of social cash transfers is that they alleviate the worst symptoms of material deprivation, but they do not address the underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability. At best, social transfers provide social assistance (an income boost for the chronically poor) and social insurance (consumption smoothing against livelihood shocks). But, critics argue, cash transfers do not contribute to social transformation–they do not challenge the economic and social injustices that generate and perpetuate structural poverty. If they are well designed and accurately targeted, social transfers can make poor people less poor. If this is all that the advocates of cash transfers can claim (and the evidence for these limited impacts is certainly persuasive), it is little wonder that many African governments are skeptical and would prefer to allocate their scarce public resources to programs that promise higher poverty reducing returns, such as fertilizer subsidies to food-insecure farmers.