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social protection

The political economy of welfare schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Medical checkups for children in India.Social welfare schemes the world over are going through interesting times. Egged on by fiscal management targets, welfare cuts are routinely passed off as “reforms”. Subsequently, there is usually pressure on governments to target welfare to the most deserving. Determining who the deserving beneficiaries are and the appropriate value of these transfers is critical.
In a recent edition of the Pathways’ Perspectives, social policy specialist Stephen Kidd bats for universal social security schemes. His central argument is built around the political economy of targeting, suggesting that “inclusive social security schemes build political alliances between those living in poverty, those on middle incomes and the affluent”. Governments that are interested in scaling up social security schemes prefer universal coverage. The argument goes that this way, they build a wide coalition of interests that support their scheme and hope that this support translates into electoral endorsement. On the other hand, governments that are interested in scaling back social security schemes do so by first withdrawing from universal schemes and then introduce an element of targeting. Soon, those that do not benefit from the scheme are more likely to see it as wasteful public spending and therefore, support a move to cut back.

Thoughts on designing a national social safety net

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Social protection programs are essential to creating resilient communities that can withstand crises, but they are also difficult to implement. Improving preparedness is an important task going forward.

Portrait young woman in IndiaOver at the IDS blog, Stephen Devereux outlined ten steps to the design and implementation of a national social protection (SP) programme. It's a useful list for SP practitioners and local policymakers – a ten-point check-list; an useful starting point. I found interesting in particular, the point on ‘needs assessments’:

Needs assessment: A social protection system should not be an off-the-shelf blueprint, but must be grounded in local analysis of social protection needs, which can be derived from national poverty surveys and other secondary sources. Who are the poor and food insecure? What are the drivers of poverty and vulnerability? By comparing the needs assessment with the policy mapping, a gaps analysis can be conducted that will inform the development of the social protection strategy.

Determining who the deserving beneficiaries are, and the value (in cash and/or kind) of the transfers is critical. At the very least, this calls for a reasonably sophisticated statistical capacity in the countries designing these policies for themselves, which poses a significant challenge.

Now That’s What I Call Social Protection: The Chile Solidario Programme

Duncan Green's picture

Another one of the fascinating case studies dug up by Sophie King for my recent UN paper on ‘The Role of the State in Empowering Poor and Excluded Groups and Individuals’. This one looks at how Chile manages its integrated social protection programme and is based on a paper by the excellent Stephanie Barrientos. Reading it really brings home the rapid erosion of any real distinction between North and South. Not at all sure UK provision is as good as this.
The Chile Solidario integrated anti-poverty programme was introduced by Government in 2002 as part of a wider drive to eradicate extreme poverty. It was designed according to a multi-dimensional understanding of poverty and capabilities to target 225,000 indigenous households using national socio-economic survey data.

Government Spending Watch - A New Initiative You Really Need to Know About

Duncan Green's picture

I’m consistently astonished by how little we know about the important stuff in development. Take the Millennium Development Goals – the basis for innumerable aid debates, campaigns, and negotiations. A large chunk of the MDG agenda concerns the size and quality of public spending – on health, education, water, sanitation etc. So obviously, the first thing we need is to know how much governments are spending on these things, right?

Well no actually, because we don’t have those numbers. Until now. Oxfam has teamed up with an influential and well-connected NGO, Development Finance International, which advises developing country governments around the world. Working with a network of government officials, DFI has pulled together and analysed the budgets of 52 low and middle income countries (With another 34 to follow). The result is a new database, called Government Spending Watch, (summary of overall project here) and a report ‘Progress at Risk’, previewed in Washington last Friday in a joint DFI/Oxfam America event to coincide with the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings. The full report won’t be ready ‘til May, but an initial draft exec sum is available, and here’s what it says.