Benchmarking Government Provision of Social Safety Nets

Social Protection Discussion Paper Series

The question of how much governments should spend on social programs generally, or safety nets in particular, is of great obvious interest to policymakers but is extremely difficult to address empirically. The approach in this paper differs from others by assuming that what governments can potentially do in terms of spending on social programs is given by what governments across the world are actually observed to be doing on average.

After first briefly reviewing the existing methodologies, their limitations, and what can be learned, an analysis of 63 countries spending patterns from 1972-1997 is presented using a comparative benchmarking methodology. Unconditional rankings of spending on safety nets and other health and education social programs are refined by controlling for various factors which affect the ability to fund programs. Two sets of factors are examined: (i) structural features captured by regional dummy variables and characteristics of the underlying populations; and (ii) quality of government as reflected in measures of corruption, rule of law, political pressure, and others. Separate analyses are conducted across countries for selected welfare indicators such as the infant mortality rate and life expectancy at birth and for states in India, for which additional information is available on macroeconomic factors and institutional features influencing safety nets spending. The approach generates a picture as to how states are performing relative to international expenditure norms and may be useful to policymakers in determining the appropriate level of overall spending.