Receiving Social Assistance in Low- and Middle-Income Countries: Negating Shame or Producing Stigma?

Despite the centrality of shame and stigma within research on welfare in high-income countries, these issues only exist within the periphery of rapidly expanding practice in and research on social assistance in low- and middle-income countries. This oversight undermines social assistance’s potential in breaking the poverty-shame cycle and ignores its role in the (re)production of shame and stigma. This article offers a critical exploration of the role of social assistance in alleviating or reinforcing shame and stigma in low- and middle-income countries. Findings indicate that positive and negative effects co-exist but that far too little evidence is available to judge whether social assistance receipt overwhelmingly negates or plays into shame and stigma, particularly in low-income countries. Greater awareness of the interface between social assistance, shame and stigma, explorations of policy options that minimise or counter stigmatisation, and critical engagement with ideological and political discourse underpinning design and delivery of interventions represent crucial steps to move towards ‘shame proofing’ social assistance in low- and middle-income countries.