Cash transfers have expanded rapidly in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) around the world in the past decade. The contexts in which they are implemented have also diversified; while cash transfers were mostly adopted initially as central elements of social protection systems, they have become increasingly popular as a core component of humanitarian response. They also play a crucial role in emerging systems of ‘shock-responsive social protection’ (SRSP), which denotes systems that have the ability to scale assistance up and down following a shock – either by increasing the level of assistance for existing beneficiaries or by expanding coverage temporarily to non-beneficiaries affected by the shock.
This paper provides an overview of the use of cash transfers in three different settings, namely: (1) cash transfers as long-term support within social protection systems; (2) cash transfers as immediate and short-term support as part of humanitarian assistance; and (3) cash transfers as a key component in scaling up social protection provision and coverage in the event of large-scale emergencies, or smaller-scale, household- and community-level shocks – also referred to as SRSP. Within each of these settings, the paper provides an overview of objectives, modality options, targeting mechanisms, delivery options and main international players promoting or supporting cash transfers. The paper also offers reflection on the efforts to harmonise cash transfers across the social protection and humanitarian spheres within the remit of SRSP.