Real Choices, Real Lives: the role of conditional cash transfers
We explore the role of CCTs in girls' lives in Brazil, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines
Plan International UK’s flagship longitudinal research project highlights the importance of government-led, predictable social welfare schemes in achieving the best outcomes for girls’ education.
The Real Choices, Real Lives study has revealed that conditional cash transfers (CCTs) have a notable effect on the lives of adolescent girls and their families in three countries: Brazil, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.
Conditional cash transfers are a form of social welfare scheme promoted in some developing countries to achieve dual or multiple objectives, often coupling financial support with child health, nutrition or education.
In exchange for a regular, predictable cash payment from the government, families are required to meet certain conditions, such as children achieving minimum attendance at school or parents having their children vaccinated (they become ineligible when these conditions are not met).
CCT programmes target poor families with children, and often disperse the payment to the female guardian as a 'mediator between the State and the family'.
Offsetting burdensome living costs
The governments of Brazil, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines – all Real Choices, Real Lives countries – each maintain large CCT programmes.
In Brazil, the conditional cash transfer programme Bolsa Família [PDF] was an early example of CCTs and has been hailed as an example of how social protection schemes can be successful in alleviating poverty.
In each country, a number of Real Choices, Real Lives girls’ families are dependent on CCTs to pay for school or to offset living costs that can be burdensome to girls’ families. A significant two-thirds of cohort families in these countries are recipients of CCTs.
In Brazil, six of the nine girls’ families, with school-aged children between six and 17, receive regular payments under Bolsa Família.
The programme provides average payments of R$167 (£35) every two months, so long as families vaccinate children under seven, provide pre- and post-natal care for mothers and maintain school attendance of 75-85% for children between six and 18.
Similarly, in the Dominican Republic, six of the 12 girls’ families are recipients of the Solidaridad programme, which provides payments of approximately DOP3,827 (£60) for food and gas every three months.
To receive these payments, families must enrol their children in school, maintain health, nutrition and non-violence in the home, as well as participate in community groups.
The Philippines and 4Ps
The most notable case of CCTs in the Real Choices, Real Lives study is the 4Ps in the Philippines. Of the 14 cohort girls in the Philippines, 11 are beneficiaries of the 4Ps – nearly 80%.
On a monthly basis, for up to three children, each family will receive a rice subsidy of PHP600 (£9.30), a health grant of PHP500 (£7.70), and either an education grant of PHP300 (£4.60) or PHP500 (£7.70) for students in primary or high school respectively.
To be eligible for the support, families must meet the conditions of pre- and post-natal care, immunisation and deworming, school attendance of 85% and participation in community groups.
Expenditures are wide ranging, from education costs to loan repayments. Some families pay for school fees, transportation or materials.
Other families use it to pay for food for the family. Without the 4Ps, Jasmine’s family says that their diet would not be as varied, while Maricel’s family needs the 4Ps to repay credit taken out to buy food.
- Jasmine’s mother, the Philippines, 2018
The data from Real Choices, Real Lives shows that the cohort girls in the Philippines are reliant on 4Ps.
The 4Ps programme supports the household, providing another source of income, easing the financial burden of education and facilitating the girls to attend school until the age of 18.
In 2014, the age limit was increased from 14 to 18 to support children to finish high school in line with recommendations that this would facilitate poverty reduction.
Conversely, the reliance on the education grant highlights the possible financial barriers that these girls may face in pursuing higher levels of education.
Many of the girls’ families want their girls to finish high school and continue their studies to university or a professional school but are concerned about their ability to afford further education.
- Melanie’s mother, the Philippines, 2018
- Rubylyn’s mother, the Philippines, 2018
Maintaining the positive effects of CCTs
Some development practitioners have raised concerns that households which receive transfers are dependent on CCTs and are unable to ‘graduate’ from the programmes.
Yet the concerns of these Filipino families – to afford higher education for their children – raise important questions about how the positive effects of CCTs can be maintained after the cash payments are ended.
Through the dual objective approach of conditional cash transfers such as the 4Ps, girls’ attendance in school has been facilitated alongside wider social welfare and poverty alleviation.
However, support is limited in its ability to account for children’s futures after the age of 18. Irrespective of girls’ aspirations of higher education, families may not have the means to send their girls to university or professional school without further economic support.
The Real Choices, Real Lives study, in its concluding five years, will highlight the ways in which families prepare for this reality.
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