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‘We Are All Poor Here’: Economic Difference, Social Divisiveness and Targeting Cash Transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Frank Ellis


While the central thrust of Michael Lipton's work has been the crucial role of productivity gains in small farm agriculture for rural poverty reduction, in many sub-Saharan African countries this desirable outcome has stubbornly refused to materialise, and growing numbers of rural poor people are found persistently to fail to secure even minimal acceptable levels of food consumption. A social protection policy response is to target social cash transfers to the chronic extreme poor. This article focuses on the level of cash transfers relative to income differences between households in the bottom half of the income distribution, and the social tensions that arise from beneficiary selection and exclusion. It is found that cash transfers to target groups such as ‘the poorest 10 per cent’ or the ‘ultra-poor labour constrained’ must be set low, even below the welfare levels they seek to achieve, if they are to avoid socially invidious reshuffling of the income distribution. The article identifies critical trade-offs between the cost and coverage of different types of social transfer, their social acceptability and their political traction, helping to explain the reluctance of governments to adopt scaled-up poverty-targeted transfers as the preferred form of social cash transfer to those most in need in their societies.

Suggested Citation

  • Frank Ellis, 2012. "‘We Are All Poor Here’: Economic Difference, Social Divisiveness and Targeting Cash Transfers in Sub-Saharan Africa," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 48(2), pages 201-214, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jdevst:v:48:y:2012:i:2:p:201-214
    DOI: 10.1080/00220388.2011.625408

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    7. Shane Frederick & George Loewenstein & Ted O'Donoghue, 2002. "Time Discounting and Time Preference: A Critical Review," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 40(2), pages 351-401, June.
    8. Barrett , Christopher B & Carter , Michael R & Ikegami , Munenobu, 2008. "Poverty traps and social protection," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 42752, The World Bank.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paolo Brunori & Flaviana Palmisano & Vito Peragine, 2015. "Inequality of Opportunity in Sub-Saharan Africa," SERIES 08-2015, Dipartimento di Economia e Finanza - Università degli Studi di Bari "Aldo Moro", revised Dec 2015.
    2. Stoeffler, Quentin & Mills, Bradford & del Ninno, Carlo, 2016. "Reaching the Poor: Cash Transfer Program Targeting in Cameroon," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 244-263.
    3. Sabina Alkire and Suman Seth, 2016. "Identifying Destitution through Linked Subsets of Multidimensionally Poor: An Ordinal Approach," OPHI Working Papers ophiwp099.pdf, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
    4. repec:eee:wdevel:v:99:y:2017:i:c:p:299-319 is not listed on IDEAS

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