Expanding the coverage of safety net programs in Africa represents a serious fiscal challenge. While there is substantial variation across countries, on average governments in Africa spend about 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) on social safety nets (see figure). This is lower than the spending on other sectors such as energy, health care, education, and, in some cases, the military. Crucially, this level of spending is inadequate to face the high chronic poverty rates and vulnerability to shocks households face in Africa.
The design of the safety net program is perfect; it is based on the latest data and evidence; it enjoys political support at the highest levels, and it has sufficient financing.
So why can this safety net program not even get started after a year?
Maybe the answer has something to do with institutions. Accounting for the formal and informal “rules of the game” for social safety nets is key to the success of any program or system. In our chapter “Anchoring in Strong Institutions to Expand and Sustain Social Safety Nets” in the recently-released regional study on safety nets, we discuss some critical aspects of institutions that can make (or break) a social safety net program and how these evolve as programs grow in Africa.
Safety nets have the potential to play an important role in protecting the well-being of poor and vulnerable households in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the world’s poorest region—and also one of the most unequal—targeted social program transfers are an effective way to fight poverty and ensure shared prosperity. But social safety net resources are limited and identification of households with the greatest need is difficult in most African countries. Evidence of effective safety net program targeting is needed to justify using existing resources, to gain support for additional investments, and to guide country efforts to improve social safety net coverage of both long-term (chronic) poor and short-term (transient) poor households.