Social Protection in Brazil: Impacts on poverty, inequality and growth

Organization(s): ODI
Author: Jessica Hagen-Zanker, Milo Vandemoortele, Rebecca Holmes
Regions: Latin America
Country: Brazil
Year: 2011
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Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of $10,427 in 2009. Growth rates increased from 1.9% to 5.1% per year from 1998 to 2008. Yet the country also has one of the highest rates of inequality in the world (the Gini coefficient is 54.2), and poverty levels are also high. Over 20% of the population – 40 million people – live under the poverty line and 7% of the population – 13 million people – are extremely poor.

Over the past two decades, however, levels of inequality and poverty have been declining steadily. Between the early 1990s and 2008, the Gini coefficient fell by 5.2 points and the percentage of households living below the poverty line halved. During this same period, notable legislative and programmatic changes were made in the economic and social policy sphere, including increasing the minimum wage and public expenditure on health, education and other social services.

At the same time, Brazil has invested significantly in social protection, and the country now has one of the best-developed systems among middle-income countries, covering approximately 25% of the population. Changes in the past two decades include adapting eligibility criteria and programme design to extend non-contributory pensions – such as the Beneficio de Prestação Continuada, a means-tested disability and old-age pension, and the Previdência Rural, an old-age pension for rural informal sector workers. Meanwhile, cash transfers have been reformed, consolidated and expanded in the form of Bolsa Família, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) targeted at extremely poor households and poor parents with children living at home, which now reaches 12.5 million families. Such changes have contributed to recent reductions in inequality and poverty. The overall cost of non-contributory cash transfers in Brazil is approximately 2.5% of GDP.

Related Key Issues

Universality of protection and effective access

Social protection programmes must be available to all individuals without discrimination of any kind. Universal social protection systems  – those which provide benefits to all residents without conditions – are the best way for States to meet their human rights obligations to ensure that there is no discrimination in the selection of beneficiaries.  Further reading: […]

Related Principles

Universality of Protection

States parties to major human rights instruments related to economic, social and cultural rights such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) have an immediate minimum core obligation to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, minimum essential levels of all economic, social and cultural rights such as the right […]

Ensure Meaningful and Effective Participation

Meaningful and effective participation of rights holders must be a key component of any social protection system. This is what builds trust and public support behind schemes and ensures that there is a sense of ownership. The participation of right holders is important during the social protection policy making processes but also as regards the […]

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