Social programmes: some significant advances

24 January 2016

The Ollanta Humala administration has been attacked from both left and right on its various shortcomings and its vacillating stance on a number of key issues, however, one area where it deserves some credit is in that of social policy.

One of the legacies of the Fujimori administration (1990-2000) was a highly clientelistic and inefficient system of social provision, a system whose main objective was to build electoral support for the regime. The two main pillars of this were Foncodes (the Fondo Nacional de Compensación y Desarrollo Social), designed initially to channel resources to vulnerable populations, and Pronaa (Programa Nacional de Asistencia Alimentaria) a system of food aid to the poor.

The system of social provision was further complicated by innovations by Fujimori’s successors. For instance, President Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006) introduced Juntos, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme by which cash payments were paid to vulnerable populations (initially in the departments of Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Apurímac) on condition that children attend school and underwent regular health checks. Then under Alan García (2006-2011) a programme known as Crecer was introduced, designed to exercise a coordinating role but aimed mainly at tackling child malnutrition.

Since 2011, there have been some important innovations. Firstly, a new ministry of social inclusion (MIDIS) was set up to improve coordination between an array of social programmes. Although not a radical departure in itself, MIDIS provided the focus for a comprehensive re-think of social policy.

Secondly, PRONAA was abolished. The scale of corruption within this programme was acknowledged; its main beneficiaries were the various intermediaries (both big and small) that supplied food rather than the final recipients. Food supplies were often over-priced and their quality very poor. Although a number of these fought tooth and nail to retain PRONAA, ultimately they failed to do so.

Many of PRONAA’s functions were taken over by a new programme, Qali Warma, which worked through the school system by providing school children with a nourishing meal at least once a day. Qali Warma is now virtually a universal programme working through schools up and down the country. It feeds some 3.4 million children. Still, malnutrition remains a serious problem, particularly in more remote rural communities where anaemia among children is very common.

Thirdly, the Juntos programme has been retained and expanded. It now benefits some 800,000 families and coverage has been expanded to ten regions (as opposed to only three at the beginning). And finally a number of new programmes have been introduced, such as Pension 65 (a system of pension payments paid to the elderly poor), Beca 18 (a system of scholarships enabling children from poor homes to attend university) and Cuna Más (a system of assistance to working mothers with small children).

How significant have these programmes been in reducing poverty levels? Most experts agree that it has been economic growth rather than targeted social spending that has helped bring down Peru’s poverty rate over the last ten years. Employment has expanded, and with it family incomes.

However, where such programmes come in is in at least providing an economic safety net for those living in extreme poverty. It is reckoned that some 5 million people (out of a total population of just over 30 million) benefit from such programmes, and that these are administered more honestly and efficiently than in the past. They cost only 3% of total government spending.

Whether they will be sustained under a new government is, of course, open to question, in particular since government spending is likely to come under increased pressure as the fiscal deficit rises. There are already signs that poverty levels are beginning to rise again as the economy slows.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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