Decentralisation and cash transfer programmes


What does recent literature tell us about the relationship between provinces or other localised governance units and states in relation to successful cash transfer programmes? Include evidence, if available, on the role of decentralisation for institutionalised policy commitment and sustainable government financing of cash transfer programmes


In many countries, national governments have delegated the implementation of public programmes, including cash transfers (CTs), to lower levels of the political administration. This rapid literature review found very little research or empirical evidence on the relationship between federal and provincial government in regard to cash transfer programmes. Much scholarship has focused on the broader challenges and enabling conditions for successful decentralised service provision. Empirical studies have looked mainly at the experience of municipal governments in the delivery of social protection programmes in Latin America. No evidence was found on the role of decentralisation in securing policy commitment and sustainable government financing for cash transfer programmes.

While the literature distinguishes between administrative, political and fiscal decentralisation, in practice this distinction is not always clear, with varying levels of local decision-making and central control, degrees of upward and downward accountability, and ranges of functions and resource transfers.

Key messages

  • Decentralisation has the potential to increase citizen participation in the way cash transfers programmes are delivered, improve accountability and give greater voice to service users.
  • Local government can play an important role in raising awareness of, and disseminating, information on CT programmes. It is often better placed than central government to target beneficiaries for social protection.
  • Evidence suggests that a lack of coherence, co-ordination and information sharing between federal and provincial authorities is a major impediment to the effective delivery of cash transfer programmes. In Pakistan, where these issues are particularly acute, the creation of a national social protection framework and co-financing arrangements is recommended.
  • The successful experience of social protection programmes in Brazil indicates that municipalities can facilitate the social policy goals established by central government, if national policies are implemented directly at the municipal level without being captured by powerful state-based governors.
  • The central government in Argentina has achieved less social policy success through national-local policy collaboration due to low levels of constitutional autonomy and decision-making authority at the municipal level.


Suggested citation

Laws, E. (2016). Decentralisation and cash transfers (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1400). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.