Brazil Lifts 40 Million From Extreme Poverty

In 2013, Brazil celebrates 10 years of the Bolsa Familia Program that lifted over 40 million people from the extreme poverty line.


In 2013, over 40 million Brazilians were lifted from extreme poverty due to social protection programs. This year, Brazil celebrates 10 years of the Bolsa Familia Program that lifted over 40 million people from the extreme poverty line.

In celebration of its success, the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development and Fight Against Hunger (Ministério do Desenvolvimento Social e Comabte `a Fome – or MDS) is promoting events to show the improvements Brazil went throughout the last decade.

I attended one seminar two weeks ago organized by MDS, in partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Brazilian Association of Population Studies (Associação Brasileira de Estudos Populacionais – or ABEP), which addressed the role of decent work in poverty alleviation. ABEP analyzed present data in efforts to show the high participation of beneficiaries in the labor market and discussed the actions of productive inclusion for those still in the program and for those who have already left.

The Bolsa Família is a conditional cash transfer program, which was not only the pioneer among the social protection programs for overcoming extreme poverty in Brazil, but it is also considered a flagship program and an example to other developing countries.

Only 10 years after its implementation under the Lula Administration, the program represents a balance in public spending, whereby deep changes in how the public resources are spent improved the quality of life for millions of Brazilians.

The Bolsa Familia Program is the biggest conditional cash transfer program in Latin America

Its success opened the path to the development and implementation of other complimentary programs associated with other social problems, such as labor rights and child labor. In the last decade, child labor in Brazil was reduced by 56%.

Brazilian social protection programs aim at improving the quality of life including better working conditions that respect individual rights and law. Undoubtedly, policies promoting inclusive growth in Brazil increased and as such policies diminish the gap in income distribution, they aid economic growth in the country.

Another important fact worth mentioning is that the conditional cash transfer projects and the minimum wage policy are transforming the labor market in Brazil, as formal labor is increasing.

Some argue that conditional cash transfer programs promote laziness and discourage work

However, the Bolsa Familia Program proves exactly the opposite, as it not only offer incentives for people to improve their lives, it also empowers women. Women are now more likely to engage in the formal labor market as they as they receive money transferred to help raise their children and complement the household income, which enables them to enroll their children in school while working.

In two decades, significant results can be observed in health, education, income (increase of 48%), life expectancy (increase of 9 years) and quality of life. Such policies are aimed at the neglected part of the population.

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When the Brazil Without Extreme Poverty Plan was launched in 2011, it took in consideration the part of the population who was not able to be part of the labor market because they lacked the skills to engage in formal labor.

The government recognizes that some people within the Bolsa Familia Program may never be fully integrate the labor market or contribute to the economy. However, with the resources being transferred to improve life conditions, their children definitely will. Thus, the social protection programs in Brazil not only aim to fight hunger, but they are also a long-term policy to promote inclusive growth among future generations.

Over 70% of the adult population in Brazil within the Bolsa Familia Program now works, and despite the income generated from work, they remain within the poverty line. Hence, social protection policies are a crucial tool to overcome extreme poverty.

People must be able to find descent work in the formal labor market, and such social protection policies are assisting in the creation of equal and decent and quality work opportunities for every citizen in humane conditions.

Despite Brazilian social protection programs, the main source of income remains labor

Within the Bolsa Familia beneficiaries, 70% has work as its main income source, as well as almost half of the Brazilian population sees job opportunities as the best way to overcome poverty.

Since the launch of the Brazil Without Extreme Poverty Program in 2011, 22 million Brazilians were lifted from the extreme poverty line. One of the challenges highlighted in the event is the need to deal with the high number of women that don’t work or study, as they are prone to enter the informal labor market. Until 2010, 15 million formal jobs were created, which demand a higher level of education.

Moreover, the minimum wage policy also assisted in lifting people from extreme poverty, and according to the Department of Statistics and Socioeconomic Studies (Departamento Intersindical de Estatística e Estudos Socioeconomicos – or DIEESE), it promoted an increased of 30% in the income of men and women in Brazil.

Brazil is transforming the concept of poverty, as it is implementing policies to provide decent work within the minimum wage alongside programs that give cash transfers to complement the household income of the extreme poor. The goal is that less fortunate Brazilians can have better living conditions, thereby creating a peculiar well-fare state that in the long turn will forever change the domestic social scenario in Brazil and support its emergence as a global power.

Tamara Santos is a communications assistant  at UNDP International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth. She earned a BA in International Relations from La Salle University and a MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies from King’s College, London. Follow her on twitter @tamara_ds. Read more articles by Tamara.