Challenges Facing SSNs in Emerging and Developing Economies: An Illustration Using the World Bank’s ASPIRE Database

We show how the standard social welfare framework can be used to assess the performance of social safety nets (SSNs) in terms of targeting efficiency and budget effort. We apply this framework to the World Bank’s ASPIRE database and find that the variation in poverty alleviation achieved by SSNs in emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs) is driven mainly by variation in budget effort. Increasing transfer spending is therefore key to strengthening SSNs in EMDEs. However, the inability of many EMDEs to finely target transfers to poor households means the required spending increases are prohibitive over the short term, especially in low-income countries. This emphasizes the importance of enhancing targeting efficiency and we discuss how the use of proxy-means testing can contribute to this emphasizing the importance of careful design to manage the horizontal inequity inherent in such an approach to targeting.