Cash or Conditions? An Analysis of Conditional Cash Transfer Programs

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O'Neill, Kerry Ellen




UN member states have repeatedly sought to end poverty and gender inequality using global goals. Social protection programs are a necessary part of achieving the goals of a poverty-free and gender equal society. This dissertation participates in the ongoing debates around whether social protection programs, specifically cash-based ones, ought to provide benefits conditionally or unconditionally by examining conditional cash transfer programs (CCTs). I argue CCTs cannot and do not satisfy both UN goals, but rather attempt to accomplish the first at the expense of the second. CCTs are anti-poverty programs that tie receipt of benefits to household compliance with program mandated activities intended to increase parental investment in children's human capital. CCTs are problematic in at least three ways. First, the logic behind these programs fails to provide a strong rationale for placing conditions on cash and is incompatible with the arguments traditionally offered in support of cash. Namely, CCTs are incompatible with a commitment to human rights, and to the political values of liberty, economic efficiency, and equality. Second, the programs conflict with the goal of gender equality because the state relies on women's care and domestic labour to serve the state. There is already a societal expectation that women will perform unpaid care and domestic work. The state reinforces this expectation through conditionalities that increase the amount of labour women are expected to perform by placing the responsibility on women for undertaking the tasks necessary for ensuring children are well fed, cared for, and taken to school, in the hopes of increasing their human capital and breaking the cycle of poverty. This leads to a third problem as the state exploits women through these programs by requiring them to perform labour to receive cash. In these exchanges the state takes advantage of gendered vulnerabilities to gain at the expense of the women who bear an unjust share of the burdens relative to the associated benefits of the transaction. Finally, having established why CCTs are unjustifiable, I suggest unconditional cash transfer programs ought to be preferred over CCTs because the former overcomes most of the challenges levelled against CCTs.


Women's Studies




Carleton University

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Ethics and Public Affairs

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Theses and Dissertations

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