Perceptions of different modalities of social assistance in the Levant


What evidence is there on local actors’ relative perceptions of different social assistance modalities (cash transfers, food vouchers and food distribution), especially on transitions away from food distribution? What differences are observed between social groups? Where possible, focus on the occupied Palestinian territory, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.


Major international aid actors worldwide have been moving away from in-kind food aid and turning towards food vouchers and cash transfers. International agencies working in the Levant – i.e. the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – have tried to reconcile this general shift with the historical, political and social specificities of social assistance in the Levant.

Key findings:

  • While no single modality emerges as a clear favourite, the balance of opinion seems to favour primarily vouchers, and then cash.
  • Cross-cutting factors shape local actors’ perceptions: wider political, economic and social conditions; dissatisfaction that aid does not meet basic needs; gender inequalities; and opinions on the quantity, quality and diversity of the food available through in-kind aid or vouchers.
  • Recipients also have preferences about how assistance is implemented. For example, many express satisfaction with the shift towards using mobile phones or electronic cards.
  • In many projects, recipients are very satisfied with vouchers, although recipients in some voucher programmes expressed negative views.
    • A major reason for satisfaction with vouchers is the dignity achieved through the choice, discretion, and privacy afforded by vouchers, as well as through shopkeepers’ respectful behaviour. Recipients also liked that vouchers created flexibility and ease in timing, procedures, and access to nearby shops. They also appreciated the availability of good-quality, diverse food. Successful mechanisms for grievances, and the resolution of problems raised, also seem associated with beneficiaries’ satisfaction.
    • Perceived problems included: a lack of diversity of accessible food items, and unsatisfactory types of food; problematic budget and pricing of vouchers; the burdens in time, distance and money entailed by involvement in some programmes; and practical failures in implementation, communication, organisation, and technology (e.g. voucher e-cards failing to work).
  • Perceptions of cash transfers are also largely favourable. In several programmes, beneficiaries experienced cash transfers as being convenient, as upholding their dignity and freedom of choice, and as increasing their social capital. They also reported that transfers reduced tensions within families and in the wider community, including between local residents and refugees. Negative views of some programmes included cases where: cash transfers had created conflicts for the refugee recipients, both with host communities and among refugees; women, including widows, could not access cash assistance due to socio-economic restrictions and burdens; and men often refused to ask for social assistance for fear of public shame.
  • Perceptions of in-kind food aid are largely negative. The positive perceptions by Palestinians served by UNRWA or WFP (especially in Gaza) stand out as a special case. Otherwise, this report mostly found expressions of concern and negative views, from recipients and from excluded host communities. For example, recipients complained about long, humiliating queuing, and difficulties in storing food.


Suggested citation

Combaz, E. (2016). Perceptions of different modalities of social assistance in the Levant (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1324). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.