Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

Are Targeting and Universalism Complementary or Competing Paradigms in Social Policy? Insights from Brazil India and South Africa

Academic journal article International Journal of Labour Research

Are Targeting and Universalism Complementary or Competing Paradigms in Social Policy? Insights from Brazil India and South Africa

Article excerpt

Since the 1980s, targeting has been high on the social policy agenda in the global South. In the wake of structural adjustment programmes, governments tightened their fiscal policies and it is in this context that targeting was widely adopted. Proponents of targeted social policies (e.g. Seekings, 2012) have celebrated the respective reforms as being pro-poor. Cash transfers and cash-for-work schemes were prominent examples of the newly established targeted poverty reduction programmes. Governments justified the shift towards means-tested social policies not only with reference to widespread poverty: a potent criticism against the existing social safety nets in the global South was that they favoured only a very small number of people, namely, the original stakeholders of import-substituting industrialization. Industrial workers, public sector employees and the military were entitled to social security schemes, whereas the vast majority of the workforce - informal sector workers, rural workers and peasants, indigenous people and women who were not employed - remained excluded (Wehr, 2009). While "Bismarckian" social security systems in continental Europe were extended over a period of several decades to large parts of the population, this did not happen in developing countries. In the global South, labour markets were formalized to a much lesser extent.

In cases such as Brazil or India, "Bismarckian" social insurance regimes have led to regressive targeting and "stratified universalism" (Filgueira, 2005): given the large informal sector and highly segmented labour markets, it is the upper income strata that predominantly benefits from public transfers. In other words, the so-called universal approaches are incapable of meeting the test of universalism in so far as they have reflected a labour market segmented along gender and racial lines and excluded many groups. Stratified or "false universalism" (Powell, 2009) fails to account for the fact that people are situated differently in economic and social terms. While it provides social protection to part of the workforce it cannot reduce overall inequality, and in particular where coverage is very limited it reinforces existing inequalities.

However, the "targeting paradigm" has not been spared from criticism either. Frequently dubbed as a central feature of "neoliberalism with a human face" (JEP, 2003) or "inclusive liberalism" (Porter and Craig, 2004), critics have stressed problems such as information asymmetries, inclusion and exclusion errors, costly registration processes for the poor, incentives distortion or the stigmatization of recipients. Moreover, the pro-poor targeting rationale was often used to dismantle the rights of formal labour.

Thandika Mkandawire (2005) is a well-known critic of targeting. He argues that targeting undermines social rights: only the "deserving poor", who have passed a means test, have access to benefits. Means-testing is often costly, and produces clientelistic relationships between the poor and state officials. Furthermore, while universalistic measures create class solidarity between the working and middle classes, targeting excludes the middle classes from social services.

Thus, Mkandawire (2004) argues for "developmental welfare": instead of a narrow focus on poverty reduction strategies, welfare policies should be integrated into a wider range of social and economic policies. They should be seen as "collective interventions in the economy to influence the access to and the incidence of adequate and secure livelihoods and income" (a similar vision is presented by Seekings and Nattrass, 2005). Following this holistic approach, we reassess the relationship between targeting and universalism in the global South. We analyse recent developments in three countries that have recently reformed their social policies: Brazil and South Africa have introduced cash transfers, and India has implemented food transfer schemes and an employment programme. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.