Anti-Social Registries: how a database excludes many from social protection

A craze sweeping the social protection world for Social Registries is systematically depriving some of the world’s poorest not only of social protection but also of access to vital services. So argues our latest publication, ‘Anti-Social Registries: How have they become so popular?, published today.

Stephen Kidd, Development Pathways’ Senior Social Policy Specialist, says that selecting the beneficiaries of programmes from one database by ranking the poorest to the richest is based on impossible assumptions. He sets out evidence to demolish the claims of advocates of what he refers to as “Anti-Social Registries,” because they often exclude up to a half of all those entitled to social protection programmes.

This extends the negative impacts caused by the exclusion errors of using the Proxy Means Test for social protection cash transfers to essential public services such as health and education, he maintains.

Kidd says in an interview: “If you insist on a poverty-targeted approach, despite the fact the majority of people in your country are insecure and living in poverty, is the social registry really the way to do it, or should you think about selecting people for each programme? If you are going to target the poor, you have to spend a lot of money to do that. Social registries are about spending very little money – and you get very bad results.”

He stresses that Social Registries are not to be confused with Single Registries, which simply bring together information from a range of social protection programmes.

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For the past 25 years, Stephen Kidd has worked as a consultant and adviser on social development and social protection. He is currently a Senior Social Policy Specialist at Development Pathways and has previously worked for DFID as a Senior Social Development Adviser, including leading its Social Protection and Equity and Rights policy teams, and as Director of Policy and Communications at HelpAge International. He has significant leadership experience and has worked in over 25 developing countries.

2 Responses to “Anti-Social Registries: how a database excludes many from social protection”

  1. Nicholas Freeland Reply

    Many thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking piece. I don’t contest in any way the main thrust of your argument. But I do feel that you are creating a straw man out of “social registries”! I don’t believe that what you term “social registries” are the villain in the piece; rather it is their use as the basis for proxy means testing that should be roundly condemned.
    The distinction you make between “social registries” and “single registries” is disingenuous and unnecessary. I would agree with the World Bank (and you won’t hear me say that every day!) that the definition of “social registries” is that they are “information systems that support outreach, intake, registration, and determination of potential eligibility for one or more social programs”, rather than with the artificially narrow suggestion in your paper that they are “merely lists of households with a wellbeing score attached [that] are used to select beneficiaries of poor relief schemes” . Under the broader definition, we do (contrary to what you suggest in the blog) find “such a great tool in high-income countries”: you in the UK would have a National Insurance number; I in France have a Numero de Securité Sociale; World Bankers in the US would have a Social Security Number. All of these emanate from “information systems that support outreach, intake, registration, and determination of potential eligibility for one or more social programs”.
    Social registries in themselves are a positive force. It is the use to which they are put that can be hugely negative. An analogy would be roads, which are sometimes described as dangerous. Yet it is not the road that is dangerous: it is the drivers on it. The same with social registries: if you use them badly, for example by applying an inaccurate proxy means test to the data contained within them, the outcome will be bad. But that is a function of the use made of them, not of their inherent value.

  2. Stephen Kidd Reply

    Nick: thanks for your comment. However, I fear that you’re confusing any form of registry with a social registry. The latter is a term that has been recently created and is used, in practice, for the targeting of poor relief programmes, normally using some form of proxy means test. If the World Bank knocks on your government’s door to offer you a social registry, they’re just offering you a PMT and a means of selecting beneficiaries for a range of poverty targeted programmes at low cost (at the price of high errors). It’s of little use in countries that have more conventional inclusive and individual social protection schemes, such as old age pensions, disability benefits, child benefits etc. So, as I note in the paper, while the WB in its recent paper on social registries highlights Georgia’s social registry (which is really the PMT for the Targeted Social Assistance programme), it plays no role in targeting of the country’s old age pension and disability benefit.

    We don’t have these registries in developed countries. The UK’s social insurance number, for example, is a unique identifier, not a database for selecting households for schemes (or even individuals). Indeed, we don’t need them.

    So, registries in general can be a positive force but a social registry, as sold by advocates to governments, is just a targeting tool for poor quality social protection programmes (and used to be more honestly called a unified targeting database). A Single Registry – while you may not like the term – is something different: it’s a warehouse of information and very useful for monitoring purposes.

    At least we agree that the big problem is the promotion of poor quality and inaccurate targeting mechanisms across low and middle income countries.

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