Supported by IDA’s technical assistance since 2009, Pakistan has established the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP), a flagship national safety net system, which is one of the largest in South Asia. BISP currently provides income support in the form of predictable monthly cash transfers of US$15 to almost 5.2 million families (approx. 20 million people) of the poorest households for consumption smoothing as well as investments in human capital development. Up to the present time more than US$ 3.5 billion has been disbursed to BISP beneficiaries out of whom 93% of beneficiaries receive the cash transfers through technology based payment mechanisms (Debit Cards, Mobile Phones, Smart Cards). The program plans to reach 5.3 million families in the next financial year.
The program has successfully established a National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) through the use of an objective targeting system, hosting a database of more than 27 million households (approx. 167 million people) – the first in South Asia. More than 30 federal and provincial social sector programs are currently using the Registry to improve their pro-poor targeting performance. BISP plans to launch update of the NSER within the current FY and complete the exercise by end of CY 2017. BISP has also rolled out the Co-responsibility Cash Transfers (CCT) program, linking cash transfers to primary school education, which is currently being implemented in 32 districts in all provinces and regions. To date over 1.3 million children have been enrolled in the program out of which over 1.15 million children have taken admission in schools. As BISP delivers the benefit transfers to female members of the beneficiary families, it has significantly contributed to women empowerment and financial inclusion agenda in the country.
According to a recent revision in the poverty measurement methodology and release of poverty numbers, around 29% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line and a significant proportion is vulnerable to poverty due to any adverse natural or idiosyncratic shock. Before the start of BISP in 2008, the country’s main safety net programs (i.e. Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal, and the Zakat) had limited coverage and were poorly targeted, as around 25 and 32 percent of resources distributed by these programs respectively, were going to non-poor households. Additionally, administration arrangements were inadequate, and implementation and monitoring and evaluation capacity were very weak. In absence of an updated National Social Protection Framework, the federal-provincial coordination on the design and delivery of complementary services to the poor remained weak. Consequently, the sector faced fragmentation of various initiatives due to absence of a policy, platform and credible systems, which could support sector consolidation. While the federal expenditures (as % of GDP) have seen a significant increase post launching of BISP, the provinces have yet to pick up their investments in targeted programs due to either lack of appropriate institutional arrangements or well designed and implemented complementary programs targeted to the poor and vulnerable.
In order to address the above challenges, the Government of Pakistan under the auspices of BISP is trying to address a variety of challenges to the sector. Since 2009, the World Bank’s Social Safety Net Project is supporting BISP in establishing an objective targeting system, strengthening the program operations, and putting in place control and accountability mechanisms for transparent delivery of services to the poor. In addition, partnership with the provinces is being strengthened through joint implementation of primary education CCTs which will allow the provinces to realize their role in delivering additional services to the poor financed by the provincial budgets, coordinated by suitable institutional and monitoring arrangements. This shift in approach from poorly designed and administered programs to building blocks of a national safety net system with a focus on creating institutions and initiatives capable of delivering tangible results should help the country in effectively achieving the goal of poverty alleviation.