About the Social Assistance Explorer

The social assistance explorer contains a harmonised panel dataset of social assistance indicators spanning 2000-2015. It has been developed to support comparative research on emerging welfare institutions.

Comparative analysis of social protection institutions in low and middle income countries is scarce. Yet Social Assistance accounts for most of the recent expansion of welfare institutions.

Led by Professor Armando Barrientos, the two-year research project was based at the Global Development Institute at The University of Manchester and was funded by the ESRC. It drew on the knowledge and expertise of a large number of collaborators across the world.

The project collected data on programme design and objectives, institutionalisation, reach, and financial resources. Key indicators can be aggregated at country and region levels.

The full database can be downloaded at the Data portal

Key indicators can be interrogated in the Map Explorer

Our key findings

A Social Assistance paradox?

Social Assistance Paradox – bigger and better in middle income countries where poverty is lower

Economic growth, the provision of basic services, and social assistance are the main drivers of poverty reduction. Social assistance supports low income families in their efforts to stay out of poverty.

Ideally, social assistance should be stronger where poverty is greater. In practice, richer countries have stronger social assistance than poorer countries.

To an extent this paradox is explained by countries’ resources and capacity. But institutions are important too. Social assistance is comparatively larger in China than in Mozambique, because of their institutional trajectories.

Uneven expansion of Social Assistance

Number of Programmes in each region by type of programme

Low and middle income countries’ provision of social assistance has expanded fast since the turn of the century, in terms of reach and budgets.

But this expansion has been uneven across regions and countries.

Latin America and the Caribbean expanded its social assistance programmes earliest and fastest. From a low baseline in 1990, social assistance programmes now reach one third of the population.

Social assistance growth in Africa has been slower, except for countries in Southern Africa and, more recently, East Africa.

Trends in Asia are mixed, with rapid expansion in China, India and South East Asia.

Types of Social Assistance programmes

Programme participants by type over time

Large scale programmes providing tax-financed and rules-based transfers to families in poverty are the main component of social assistance.

For comparative analysis, there are four main types of programmes:

  • Pure income transfers like social pensions see poverty primarily in terms of consumption deficits and transfer income to families in poverty to reduce them;
  • Conditional income transfers understand poverty as productivity deficits and combine income transfers to reduce consumption deficits with incentives for human capital accumulation especially schooling and health;
  • Employment guarantees combine income transfers with the accumulation of community assets such as roads and irrigation. They aim to reduce consumption deficits and improve infrastructure in rural areas;
  • Integrated antipoverty programmes emphasise the role of social inclusion deficits in poverty and combine income transfers with multidimensional interventions and intermediation. They aim to address consumption, productivity, and inclusion deficits.