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Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Programme has important implications for enhancing decent work

Brasilia, 16 November- Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Programme (PBF), a conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme aiming to provide minimum income guarantee and social protection for poor families while improving children’s access to education and health, has important implications for promoting decent work, as it has successfully extended social protection and enhanced income security among the working age population living in poverty.

On an IPC-IG field trip visiting Bolsa Familia beneficiaries

Assessment of the Implications of the Bolsa Familia Programme for the Decent Work Agenda , a working paper published by the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth of the United Nations Development Programme (IPC-IG) outlines the evolution of the Brazilian social protection system with a focus on the PBF, and analyses the impacts of the programme on the Brazilian labour market performance. It concludes that the PBF has important implications for the Decent Work Agenda, defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as “productive work under conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity, in which rights are protected and adequate remuneration and social coverage are provided”. ILO’s four pillars of decent work are “employment, rights atwork, social dialogue and social protection”, out of which the obvious link to the PBF is the fourth pillar of social protection.

Bolsa Familia: An Overview

The PBF was created in 2003 and has grown to cover approximately 25% of the population, with an expenditure of 13 billion Brazilian Reals (0.38 of GDP) in 2010. Its aims are to alleviate poverty in the short-term and break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next in the long-run. The conditionalities which come with the programme are in educational enrollment, health and nutritional check-ups, with the goal of accumulating human capital among beneficiaries, enabling generations to use this human capital (e.g. improved education) as an “exit door” out of long-lasting poverty. The implementation of the program, as well as ensuring that families fulfill their conditionalities, is shared between the federal and sub-national levels of government.

Beneficiaries receive cash transfers through the Bolsa Familia card

Although the programme aims to provide exit doors through the accumulation of human capital, many fear that the stable cash transfer income may act as a “poverty trap”, making beneficiaries dependent on the programme and discouraging them from seeking “less precarious work”, thus decreasing their chances of breaking out of poverty. However, results have shown an improved accumulation of human capital, as 39.4% of children are more well nourished among beneficiaries than none beneficiaries. Also there is a heightened school attendance rate among beneficiaries (4.4 percent) as well as a 16 percent fall in inequality between 1999 and 2009.

Implications of the PBF on the Labour Market

The relationship between the PBF and changes in the labour market are complex, with the general neo-classical model of labour supply implying that cash transfers decrease the number of hours worked by adults, and the increase in income allows for more leisure time. However there may also be other explanations for this, as in many cases the free time provided for adults is spent on taking children to school and to health check-ups to fulfill the programme’s conditionalities, and are not spent in leisure. CCT’s have a positive impact on reducing child labour, as although child labour provision has not decreased considerably, children of beneficiaries work 3 hours less than non-beneficiaries due to the compulsory school enrollment conditionality.

Even though cash transfers increase social security and provide poor families with a minimum income allowance, the paper suggests that the impact of CCTs on labour supply “show no significant rise in the areas predicted by the standard microeconomic model”. This may be because beneficiaries usually are very poor and cannot afford to spend their income on leisure activities, or because families may believe the transfers to be “temporary” and are not willingly decrease the adult labour supply.

The programme has been a success in targeting beneficiaries in the poorer regions of the country. Brazil has wide regional disparities with the north-eastern and northern regions historically being severely impoverished and with the lowest levels of socio-economic development. After the creation of the BFP there has been an important decrease in the number of people living below the poverty line in all Brazilian macro-regions.


Thus the paper concludes that Brazil’s PBF has important implications for decent work, as it helps to alleviate poverty among the working population. The programme successfully decreases the number of hours children spend working, and increases school enrollment. Also its implementation has been widespread, as the programme has successfully covered the poorest households of the northen regions, holding 50.7% of the total number of beneficiaries in 2008. Furthermore the PBF does not appear to jeopardize adults’ performance in the labour market. The observed fall in adult labour force participation means that the poorest participants are given the chance, without losing income, to refuse the worst forms of labour such as dangerous work, forced labour and child labour.    

By: Jenny Maukola, IPC-IG

Read the full Working Paper #85: Assessment of the Implications of the Bolsa Familia Programme for the Decent Work Agenda

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ILO Decent Work Agenda

Read more about the Bolsa Familia Programme:

Bolsa Familia and the Citizen’s Basic Income: A Misstep? 

Targeting and Coverage of the Bolsa Familia Programme: Why Knowing What you Measure is Important in Choosing the Numbers

Targeting and Coverage of the Bolsa Familia Programme: What is the Meaning of Eleven Million Families?

Direct or Mediated Relationships? Civic Involvement and Social Accountability in the Bolsa Familia Programme

What is the Impact of the Bolsa Familia Programme on Education?

A Heterogeneity Analysis of the Bolsa Familia Programme Effect on Men and Women’s Work Supply

Targeted Cash Transfer Programmes in Brazil: BPC and the Bolsa Familia

Evaluating the Impact of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia: Cash Transfer Programmes in a Comparative Perspective

Short URL: http://pressroom.ipc-undp.org/?p=7802

Posted by on Nov 16 2011. Filed under Featured News, Inclusive Growth around the world, News, Slider, Social Protection. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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