Icon Our WorkAnti-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?

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.

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.


  • Thanks Stephen for that observation! Subjecting a human right to in my view ‘scientific experiment’ is regrettable. Universal pension schemes are more effective in eliminating poverty. Poverty in most countries particularly in Africa is embedded in the core make up of society and one’s poverty status is closely linked to the other. Besides, one is who is presumed to better off is not safe from potential risks and vulnerabilities in the short run. Direct targeting is not only inconclusive in that context but is rather one way of excluding many other people thereby creating other complex inequality challenges .Direct targeting can only be fair if done on a ‘regular basis’ but the cost of doing that let say on a semiannual (or even annual basis) far outweighs the cost of delivering the service its self and even then such a system can’t be said to be responding to social protection as a human right.


  • 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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