By Jonathan Power
April 12th, 2016
If worst comes to worst and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is deposed and her widely beloved predecessor, Luiz “Lula” da Silva, is discredited they will long be remembered for the “Bolsa Familia”. This is a government program that has cut Brazil’s once appalling poverty rate by half and reduced the number of poor very sharply to 3% of the population. It reaches 55 million people and 36 million have been lifted out of poverty. It has been such a winner that around sixty countries have sent their experts to study it. Indeed, it has been so successful politically that we shouldn’t be surprised that if Rousseff is felled by the shenanigans of Congress masses will go out on the street and riot.
Before the Bolsa Familia program was put into effect by Lula, Brazil had many welfare and food subsidy programs. Like in most developing countries the benefits didn’t reach the poor in the way that was intended. Middle men, black marketeers, corrupt officials and politicians skimmed and diverted much of them.
Bolsa Familia absorbed these into one direct cash payment. If you were a poor mother of a family- women were more trusted than men- you received an electronic card which you could slip into a bank cash dispenser and immediately get your monthly allowance, often doubling your cash income. There would be no intermediaries and no skims and no scams.
There were some conditions. Her children had to go to school, be immunized and have regular health check ups. She herself, if pregnant again, had to go to the maternity clinic. So not only were incomes being raised above the poverty line but infant and maternal mortality rates fell fast.
The income of the poorest 20% of Brazilians rose by 6.2% between 2002 and 2013, while that of the country’s richest 20% rose by only 2.6%. (In the US in the same time period the income of the richest 10% rose by 2.6% and that of the poorest 10% shrank by 8.6%.)
Innoculations reached 99% of the population. Deaths from malnutrition fell by 58%. Longevity steadily increased. Literacy became almost universal and education gave young people a better chance in life. The number of children forced to work instead of attending school dropped by 14%.
I’ve been out to the villages in the North East and seen with my own eyes the visible and dramatic improvements. I’ve been visiting Read More »