This policy brief is based on a study conducted by the researchers through Oxford University and Lahore School of Economics, and funded by the British Academy and Lahore School of Economics. The study is entitled “The Downside of Discretion” and is available at sites.google.com/site/kvyborny.
Pakistan’s Benazir Income Support Programme is one of the world’s largest public assistance programs, issuing a regular Unconditional Cash Transfer to 7 million recipient households across the country. When BISP was first initiated, parliamentarians were asked to identify and nominate poor households for the program. Then, the Government of Pakistan worked with advisors in aid donor agencies to develop and implement a Poverty Scorecard (Proxy Means Test) to select the poorest recipients, using a simple formula based on their assets.
This policy brief summarizes the findings of a research study on the effects of this reform to use the Poverty Scorecard. The study looks at survey data from thousands of households, and compares how BISP was distributed as the Poverty Scorecard reform was rolled out. It finds that the reform that implemented the Poverty Scorecard:
Before BISP, many governments in Pakistan each introduced a new transfer program, in part in response to favoritism in previous programs. This led to inconsistent coverage, making social protection ineffective as a safety net. BISP was the first social protection program in Pakistan to adopt a completely objective, rule-based system for selecting recipients.
The study shows that the investment in the Poverty Scorecard / National Socio-Economic Registry and the commitment to an objective targeting system has paid off by making BISP pro-poor and resistant to political favoritism. The findings suggest that the government should build on BISP’s success by expanding the use of the NSER for identifying beneficiaries across programs through the Ehsaas initiative, and make this system accessible to provincial governments and other development partners to expand the benefits of this investment.
Kate Vyborny is Associate Director, DevLab and Research Associate, Department of Economics, Duke University; Visiting Fellow, Lahore School of Economics.
Muhammad Haseeb is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Warwick and former Research Fellow, Lahore School of Economics.
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