Social safety nets expand in developing countries, but poorest still lack coverage
Only one-third of the poor are covered by any type of social safety net globally.
- Social safety net programs include cash and in-kind transfers targeted to poor and vulnerable households, with the goal of protecting families from the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters, and other crises; ensuring that children grow up healthy, well-fed, and can stay in school and learn; empowering women and girls; and creating jobs.
- More than 1.9 billion people in 136 low- and middle-income countries benefit from social safety net programs.
- The combined spending on social safety nets amounted to about US$329 billion between 2010 and 2014
- Some 718 million people are enrolled in cash transfer programs, including public works, and constitute 36 percent of social safety net globally. Cash transfers constitute the highest share of spending in all regions except in Sub-Saharan Africa, where food and other in-kind transfers dominate.
Low-income countries still face the greatest gaps in reaching the poorest people.
- On average, developing countries spend 1.6 percent of their GDP on social safety nets. This is low compared to other public policy measures such as fuel subsidies.
- The world’s five largest social safety net programs are all in middle-income countries and reach over 526 million.
- In low-income and lower-middle-income countries, social safety nets cover only 25 percent of the poor, compared to 64 percent in upper-middle-income countries.
- In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where most of the global poor live, social safety nets cover one-tenth and one-fifth of the poorest 20 percent, respectively.
- The coverage of the poor living in urban areas is lower than in rural settings. The difference amounts to about 8.5 percentage points in low-income countries.
Social safety nets help achieve visible impacts in reducing poverty.
- Safety net programs on average help reduce the poverty headcount rate by 8 percent.
- Safety nets also reduce the poverty gap (how far the poor are from the poverty line) by 15 percent on average of the poverty gap without safety nets.
Social safety nets have positive and significant impacts on education, health, and food security, but also promote households’ ability to generate income that can lead to positive effects in local economies.
- Cash transfers helped increase enrollment rates of primary and secondary children by 18 percentage points in Burkina Faso.
- In Peru, women of child-bearing age enrolled in the cash transfer program were 91 percentage points more likely to have a doctor-assisted delivery.
- Cash transfer programs have positive spillover effects on the local economy, with total income multiplier ranging from $1.08 to $2.52 for each dollar transferred.
- In Nicaragua, Mexico, and Zambia, social safety nets beneficiaries are more likely to start up microenterprises by 3, 4, and 17 percentage points, respectively with respect to non-beneficiaries.
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2015