The ‘quiet revolution from the Global South’: A new generation of social protection policies
By Maria Denise Galvani*
A broad body of literature acknowledges important developments in the field of social protection that have been recently occurring in developing countries. It has been said about this matter that there is a “quiet revolution from the Global South”, which has integrated over 190 million poor households to income assistance programmes in the last decade[i]. Most of these people live in developing countries that are building or reforming social security schemes as a part of their national development strategy.
Different sources show evidence of a wave of public cash transfer programmes throughout the developing world. The IPC-IG, for instance, has information on recent legal frameworks of 41 developing countries; the Global Extension of Social Security from the International Labor Organization (GESS-ILO) counted 60 social transfer programmes in 30 countries.[ii]
The wave advance is fueled by the fact that “classic” social security frameworks that play a decisive welfare role on today’s developed countries are falling short to reach most of the world’s population. This inconsistency is well documented by the latest ILO’s World Social Security Report 2010/2011: although nearly all countries have some provision of statutory social insurance or social assistance, only 26.5% of the world’s adult population is employed in the formal labor market and thus, automatically covered by such schemes. Regular social insurance and social assistance programmes leave behind the population that do not relate to the formal labor market – as is frequently the case in the developing world and, more specifically, among the poorest.
The initiatives that have been succeeding to extend social protection to this public are here called a new generation of cash transfer programmes. They fulfill three requisites: (i) they provide cash benefits; (ii) they are public entitlements, financed from government revenue; and (iii) they are meant to reach the poorest households within society. Such cash transfer programmes come into play as a necessary piece to meet a twofold goal of social policy in developing countries: overcoming chronic poverty and promoting development.
By conceding cash, and not in-kind assistance, the new generation of cash transfers fosters local market transactions and respects individual choices; as public entitlements, the benefits are socially taken as a right and not as an occasional aid; and, finally, being poor-targeted, cash transfers promote redistribution. Attaining to this logic, the second generation of cash transfer programmes are expected to trigger a chain of positive developmental effects relieving immediate poverty, protecting demand, creating a secure environment for productive investments and empowering people to seek personal choices and political expression.
Framing the new cash transfer programmes into the much in evidence Theory of Capability of Social Sciences, social protection provides people with tools and opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty traps – aiming thus at a definite solution to poverty. Alternatively, one can look at such programmes through the more econometric perspective of development as pro-poor growth; in this case, cash transfers boost the extent to which economic growth favors the poorest.
Considering the landscape of social protection programmes recently launched in developing countries, three main policy designs fit the “new generation” of cash transfers definition: (i) social pensions; (ii) conditional cash transfers; and (iii) public works programmes. They differ mainly in their targeting mechanisms and in the imposition of conditionality: social pensions, as institutionalized in South Africa, straightforwardly supplement income of any poor family or vulnerable group (children, elderly); conditional cash transfers, inspired by the pioneer Oportunidades in Mexico, deliver benefits in exchange of compliance to vulnerability-reducing habits (attending education and health facilities); and public works or workfares, as India‘s employment guarantee schemes, offer minimal wage levels for any adults willing to work for public services or infrastructure projects. Those three models derived from the same general concern: to secure an adequate income level for a population that was before marginalized from State and Market risk-management institutions.
Brazil’s Bolsa Família
The largest public cash transfer programme aimed at poverty reduction in the world is a representative of this new approach to social protection. The Bolsa Família reaches over 13 million households. Estimations are that the isolated effects of the programme are responsible for 30% of all extreme poverty reduction in the country from 2003 to 2009[iii]. Combined with a similar instrument of social assistance (the BPC), the Bolsa Familia can also be considered the income source of Brazilians with the most progressive effect in redistribution.
This good performance results from an administrative effort of unifying social programmes and conferring them the status of social protection. An overarching management structure delegates to municipalities the registration of potential beneficiaries. Households are then selected based on their self-reported income, with an ex-post fraud control. This system guarantees the programme runs smoothly and reaches effectively the poorest households.
The decentralized structure of the programme still allows Bolsa Família to pursue two other goals: promoting basic rights through the enforcement of conditionalities (by monitoring children’s school attendance and family compliance with basic healthcare); and overcoming specific vulnerability situations, through articulation with local social policy mechanisms (adult literacy programmes, employment agencies, family counseling).
As the programme comes close to full-coverage of its target group (the remaining 800.000 poor families should be integrated by 2013), higher benefits must be considered if the Bolsa Família is to continuously reduce inequality.[iv] Adjusting benefit levels, as well as enhancing complementary policies, are seen as key challenges of the Bolsa Família for the coming years, in proving itself able to extend social protection to all and contribute to overall development.
*Maria Denise Galvani contributed this article based on her dissertation “Public cash transfer programmes: an emerging social protection framework for developing countries and the Brazilian experience” at Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, October 2011
[i] Barrientos, Armando, and Miguel Niño-Zarazúa. 2011. “Social Transfers and Poverty: Objectives, Design, Reach and Impact”. Chronic Poverty Report. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CRPC).
[ii] Information retrieved in September 2011.
[iii] Soares, Sergei et al. “Os impactos do benefício do programmea Bolsa Família sobre a desigualdade e a pobreza”. In Bolsa Família 2003-2010: avanços e desafios, vol. 2, edited by Castro, Jorge A., and Lúcia Modesto, 25-52. Brasília: Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Ipea).
[iv] Average benefit was around US$ 60/month per household in 2010 (R$ 97, in 2010 average exchange rate of 1,6).
Would you like to learn more about development innovations in the Global South? Refer to the following IPC-IG resources:
Can Social Protection help promote Inclusive Growth? [Poverty in Focus magazine]
Cash Tranfers: Lessons from Africa and Latin America [Poverty in Focus magazine]
Brazil inspires South Africa through its ‘Zero Hunger Strategy’ [IPC-IG article]
A shift from a North-dominated policy discourse in going on [IPC-IG presentation]
The role of Cash Transfers in fostering economic activities [IPC-IG presentation]
Watch the ‘Bolsa Família’ episode of IPC-IG’s documentary ‘A Journey through Social Protection in Brazil’:
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