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Social Assistance in Developing Countries by Armando Barrientos (review)
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Social Assistance in Developing Countries. By Armando Barrientos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. 256.

The World Bank reported in April 2013 that East Asia saw the most dramatic reduction in poverty when the region’s US$1.25 a day poverty rate (defined as extreme poverty) fell from 77 per cent in 1981 to 12 per cent in 2010. In South Asia, this dropped from 61 per cent to 31 per cent over the same period. Sub-Saharan Africa however only saw a fall from 52 in 1981 to 48 per cent in 2010. There were still about 1.2 billion people living in poverty in 2013, and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for more than one-third of the world’s extreme poor. Poverty rates have declined but the issue will remain important for at least the next two decades. In Southeast Asia, growth has had an effect on poverty, although it has not been a sufficient condition for eradicating extreme poverty.

Clearly, a more targeted approach is needed and there should not be an over-reliance on economic growth alone to solve the problems of the poor. At the very least, growth is a necessary condition. However, growth must work in tandem with other social protection measures to make a sustained contribution to the long-term reduction in poverty. This is where this book by Armando Barrientos steps in and makes an important contribution to the general literature on poverty eradication.

The work by Barrientos is timely and examines the issue of poverty by focusing on direct transfers to households in cases of poverty and extreme poverty. Such transfers are labelled in the literature as anti-poverty transfer programmes. There are three ideal types of anti-poverty programmes: pure income transfers, transfers combined with asset accumulation (human, financial and physical [End Page 160] asset accumulation), and integrated poverty reduction programmes. These programmes allow for an understanding of poverty by identifying three different and important perspectives: poverty because of a lack of income, poverty because of a lack of income and assets, and poverty as a multidimensional issue (poverty can be reflected by a shortcoming of income, employment, health, nutrition, educational and other opportunities).

The book provides a conceptual framework for social assistance and links it to current practice in selected developing countries. Examining conceptual frameworks that eradicate poverty is useful as these determine the practical actions that will follow from these frameworks. Chapter 2 begins with the ethics of assistance and draws from the philosophical discussions of the institutions of social justice and cooperation. Here the author has addressed this fundamental issue by considering the basis of individual morality (assistance should be provided for those in need), and also the “political conception of justice”, which places the focus on social institutions, and the political notions of justice, where assistance is necessary to ensure commitment to economic cooperation and future political processes. Chapter 3 lays out a foundation for understanding concepts on poverty and poverty eradication; a firm grasp of these concepts is essential for understanding objectives, design and impact of anti-poverty programmes. Commonly used poverty indices are discussed along with the importance of panel data surveys to allow for observations to be made at given intervals over time.

Chapter 4 then links the discussion in the previous two chapters to an analysis of optimal transfer programmes. Transfers are optimal if they minimize poverty. This literature discussed in this chapter is highly technical but grounded in economic logic and reasoning. A comprehensive discussion of difficult material is presented and the author can be commended for attempting to make the exposition fairly accessible and clear to interested readers. Questions answered in this chapter include: how best to allocate an antipoverty budget? What is the optimal form of the anti-poverty transfer programme in the presence of information and incentive issues? What should be the size of the budget? Chapter 5 examines anti-poverty measures in practice. Studies on the typologies of social assistance are provided for selected countries including Africa, India, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, and Chile. Table 5.1 provided in this chapter is especially useful for readers wanting to have a quick grasp...