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PRESS RELEASEMarch 31, 2022

Fit-for-Purpose Social Protection Targeting Key to Supporting Those in Need

Regardless of the targeting method, robust delivery systems remain crucial.

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2022 – Social protection programs play a key role in helping individuals and families escape poverty, mitigate and manage risks, and improve resilience and opportunity. While the ultimate goal is to reach Universal Social Protection, interventions often need to assist the poorest and most vulnerable populations first when resources are limited. Yet, there is no single targeting method that fits every situation, and context and policy objectives must drive choices, says a World Bank report launched today.

Revisiting Targeting in Social Assistance: A New Look at Old Dilemmas” provides the latest, comprehensive analysis of the benefits and costs of social protection targeting as well as evaluates the pros and cons of various targeting methods based on global experience in over 130 countries.     

Governments around the world choose to differentiate eligibility and benefits of social protection programs, commonly known as targeting, to fit programs to purpose and to reduce costs. Evidence has shown that concentrating a greater share of benefits on the poorest people is often more equitable and cost-effective than expanding coverage more broadly.

“Most countries have limited resources for social protection measures which is why it is so important to prioritize populations most in need,” said Michal Rutkowski, Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs at the World Bank. While a universal social protection system is the ultimate goal, the reality is that because of limited resources, coverage is still low and we need to focus those resources well. This means improving and modernizing targeting methods, providing benefits for specific groups, and defining poor and vulnerable populations in each context.”

The COVID-19 pandemic further underscores the importance of social protection in safeguarding the vulnerable against major shocks. Since April 2020, the World Bank’s social protection operations have reached $12.5 billion, benefiting nearly one billion individuals globally.

According to the report, when selecting a targeting method, factors such as the goals of the program, the degree of poverty and inequality, the level of administrative capacity, institutional history, and political economy all come into play. In addition, decisions must be made judiciously given the costs of targeting, although the incremental administrative costs of differentiating eligibility tend to be quite low. This report aims to provide a practical guide to thinking through key questions when designing and implementing targeted programs.

Regardless of the targeting method, robust social protection delivery systems are pivotal to the success and impact of social protection programs,” said Margaret Grosh, World Bank Senior Advisor and an author of the report. “Good delivery systems can help reduce costs and stigma, minimize inclusion errors, facilitate crisis response, and improve access to social assistance overall, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable people, including indigenous communities, migrants, and people with disabilities.”

The report found that advances in technology—ICT, big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning—can improve the accuracy in targeting, especially by using the growing sources of new data and better accessing existing data. Traditional government-held data have been and will continue to be a driver of improvements in a government’s ability to assess welfare and target assistance to families. This calls for policies to ensure strong protocols for data use and sharing and for data privacy and protection. 

Effective social protection programs are key to reducing poverty, enabling human capital investments, and laying the foundation for equitable societies. The World Bank supports developing countries’ efforts to achieve Universal Social Protection and is helping them strengthen social protection systems and build a resilient and inclusive recovery.

For more information, including a copy of the new report: Revisiting Targeting in Social Assistance: A New Look at Old Dilemmas, please visit here



Alexandra Humme


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