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Revealed: poverty targeting excludes 44–97% of those it aims to reach


The exclusion errors of the targeted programmes reviewed varied between 44% and 97%

Is accurate targeting the Holy Grail of social protection? Unfortunately, the damning record of exclusion errors in targeted social protection programmes is uncovered in our exhaustive global review for the Church of Sweden, released today.

The research by Development Pathways is based on national household surveys from 23 low- and middle-income countries  and investigates 38 social protection programmes and Social Registries. It shows that poverty-targeted schemes miss between 44% and 97% of their intended recipients.

In contrast, universal schemes had the lowest exclusion errors and were the most effective in reaching both their intended recipients and those living in extreme poverty. For example, only 8% were excluded from Bolivia’s Renta Dignidad universal social pension, and 2% from Mongolia’s universal Child Money Programme.

The research also reveals that some means-tested schemes performed better than their proxy means-tested counterparts. Brazil’s Bolsa Família programme, for example, was the best performing poverty-targeted scheme. South Africa’s simple means-test was also relatively effective in reaching intended recipients, reaching over 70 per cent of the people that it aimed to reach. Although in these cases, Bolsa Família’s result was largely due to its use of quotas for receiving benefits in each municipality, and in South Africa’s social grants’ result was due to its attempt to exclude the affluent – who are fewer in number.

Stephen Kidd, Senior Social Policy Specialist, comments: “If governments and international agencies are really committed to ‘leaving no-one behind’ and ensuring that the right to social security is fully realised, the evidence from our research demonstrates that it will be necessary to support universal social protection programmes. Poverty-targeted programmes are not helping to lay the foundations of effective national social security systems. It is time to change.”

Hit and miss: An assessment of targeting effectiveness in social protection is available for download.