The political economy of cash transfer programmes in Brazil, Pakistan and the Philippines - When do governments ‘leave no one behind’?

In 2015, countries around the world endorsed Agenda 2030 (UNGA, 2015). This included the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the ‘leave no one behind’ concept, which means ‘ending extreme poverty in all its forms and reducing inequalities among both individuals (vertical) and groups (horizontal)’ (Stuart and Samman, 2017: 1; see Box 1 also). In practice, the Agenda requires governments to reach out to those groups, populations and individuals who are the furthest behind across different goals and prioritise progress for them. Often, country governments do not put furthest behind groups at the centre of their policies and there are many reasons why they may not prioritise outcomes for the poorest.

What is the enabling environment that allows governments to do something which might be unpopular among middle classes? What incentivises governments to deliver when the immediate benefits may not be clear, but the additional costs are more so? This paper seeks to answer these questions by examining the political economy of cash transfer programmes introduced by the governments of Pakistan, the Philippines and Brazil. It does not consider the efficacy or efficiency of such programmes (‘Did they work?’) but instead looks at why the government implemented them in the first place and, where relevant, why subsequent administrations continued the policy when praise for their ongoing successes might be attributed to their predecessors.