Friday, November 19, 2010

Improving health, education and poverty at the same time

Other countries are coming to Brazil for advice. The success of the Bolsa Familia program has other countries looking to start up similar programs, even New York City started their own wealth transfer program.

Bolsa Familia gives money to the poorest families of Brazil with some stipulations attached. In order to continue receiving the money, the family's children have to remain in school, and the family has to have routine doctor visits. So Bolsa Familia tackles the issues of health, education and poverty simultaneously.

From the Guardian, writer Madeleine Bunting tells us why even Brittan is considering stating up a similar program

Probably the biggest and best known of all the cash transfer schemes in the developing world is the Bolsa Familia in Brazil. Since 2003, 12 million families have joined the scheme and receive small amounts of money (around $12 a month). Inequality has been cut by 17% in just five years, which is perhaps one of the most dramatic achievements in welfare ever recorded. The poverty rate has fallen from 42.7% to 28.8%.

Such is the fascination in this "social technology" that Brazil is now being sought for advice on cash transfer programmes by countries across Africa (Ghana, Angola, Mozambique), the Middle East (Egypt, Turkey) and Asia (including India). Even New York City has implemented a version of the programme.

"It's social policy diplomacy," suggested one of the ministers involved in the Brazilian programme, Dr Romulo Paes de Sousa, when I caught up with him in London after speaking at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex earlier this week.

He's delighted by the interest. "Brazil is developing a new model of donor whereby we give expertise as well as aid. Brazil is already one of the largest donors of food aid in the world." He is also struck by the paradox that Brazil is expanding its welfare state just as Europe is cutting back on welfare.

There are some aspects of the programme, he explains, which have attracted particular interest. The first is conditionality. The payments are dependent on the family's children staying in school until 17, and attendance must be at least 85% up to 14 years and 75% for the remainder. Another form of conditionality is that children get the full set of vaccinations in their first five years and that mothers attend pre and post-natal care.

Inevitably, the programme has led to criticism that it will generate a dependency culture. Unlike another comparable programme in Mexico, it is not time limited. But Dr Paes points out that the level of support is low so it is designed to supplement income from a job, never replace it. It helps that studies of its impact show how the injection of this cash into particularly poor communities is helping stimulate the local economy. Other studies have shown that the vast bulk of the money is spent on necessities such as food, school supplies, clothing and shoes - that helped squash arguments that if you gave money to the poor, they would simply spend it on alcohol.

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