Social Safety Nets Primer

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This series is intended to provide a practical resource for those engaged in the design and implementation of safety net programs around the world. Readers will find information on good practices for a variety of types of interventions, country contexts, themes and target groups, as well as current thinking on the role of social safety nets in the broader development agenda.

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  • Publication
    Targeted Transfers in Poor Countries : Revisiting Trade-Offs and Policy Options
    (World Bank, Washington, DC, 2003-01) Whitehead, Tim
    Social safety nets are often seen as short-term palliatives or, worse, wastes of scarce money in developing economies. Critics point to leakages of benefits to non-targeted groups (i.e., the non-poor) or the policies' potential adverse effects on the incentives to work or save. Even supporters of social safety nets often view their benefits solely in terms of equity. These policies are rarely seen as an integral part of a strategy for fostering economic growth and poverty reduction. Indeed, many observers have argued that there are significant trade-offs between spending public money on such programs and long-term poverty reduction. Theory and evidence suggest that there may be scope for policies to alleviate current poverty and uninsured risk, and at the same time, to enhance economic efficiency. There have been a number of successful transfer schemes. However, in drawing implications for future policies, targeted transfers may not dominate other options such as fostering new institutions for credit provision, better enforcement of property rights, and supply-side interventions in schooling and healthcare. Theory and evidence suggest that the trade-offs between traditional safety net goals and efficiency have probably been exaggerated. A new approach to social safety nets would recognize their potential to enhance growth and emphasize careful design and evaluation to ensure that that potential is realized.