Everyone has been watching Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programme, Bolsa Família, since its 2004 launch. It covers 11 million families, providing a monthly transfer to poor households with children up to 15 years old and/or a pregnant woman and a monthly transfer to extremely poor households (irrespective of their composition).
Does it work? Fabio Veras Soares et al. at IPC have now done a thorough evaluation. Key questions are answered: is it well-targeted? (yes, by and large); does it reduce poverty? (yes, especially extreme poverty); does it reduce inequality? (yes); does it improve education outcomes? (yes for attendance, but educational attainment remains a problem); does it improve child nutrition? (maybe); is it a disincentive to work? (no). So, by and large, a positive evaluation. A key result is that Bolsa Família does encourages higher labour force participation by both men and women, rather than shirking as critics allege.
Cash transfer programmes are up and running across Latin America; in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico (see CPRC and ODI for regular updates). Still, many eligible households are not yet covered—this is the challenge ahead.