A report from Stephen Kidd about Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan tells us that the IMF have been forcing governments to limit the scope of universal benefits for children. At a time when the evidence for universal programmes in less developed countries has rarely been stronger – see, for example, S Davala, R Jhabvala, G Standing, S Mehta, 2015, Basic Income – this is deeply depressing.
I discuss the issues about targeting briefly on my social policy website. If “targeting” means that there’s a choice of group (for example, payments to pensioners or nursing mothers), it can work. Targeting “the poor” is much vaguer and more difficult to do effectively. The process is complex and hard to do with any precision; some favoured methods, such as geographical selection, really don’t work well. A report by Australian Aid, Targeting the poorest, found that for poor people the process could seemed bizarrely random, with outcomes that they attributed to luck or divine judgment. The evidence suggests that selectivity is rather more effective at stopping people from getting benefits than it is at getting them to the people who need them most. By contrast, universal benefits work. Arguing to scrap benefits that work and replace them with rules that don’t makes very little sense.