Beneficiary Selection and Allowance Utilization of Social Safety Net Programme in Bangladesh
Beneficiary Selection and Allowance Utilization of Social Safety Net Programme in Bangladesh
Mohammed Ziaul Haider 0 1
Arif Mahamud 0 1
0 Save the Children International , Meherpur , Bangladesh
1 Economics Discipline, Khulna University , Khulna 9208 , Bangladesh
This study attempts to analyze the beneficiary selection and allowance utilization of social safety net (SSN) programmes in Bangladesh through using field level primary data. It finds that SSN transfers are not always distributed among the poor and vulnerable people who deserve to receive the allocation for fighting against poverty and vulnerability. We find that more than half of the selected beneficiaries under SSN programme do not comply with one or more priority criteria of the programme. Sometimes, the compulsory criteria are also overlooked while selecting beneficiaries. Such a scenario urges for revising and monitoring the beneficiary selection process. The study findings also indicate that about 60% of the received allowance money is spent for purchasing food, which signals that people still remain in vulnerable situation even after taking shelter under the umbrella of SSN. Therefore, an initiative to increase in allowance amount, change in beneficiary selection procedure and intensification of monitoring might contribute to promote human rights and social protection in Bangladesh through facilitating right peoples' access to SSN programmes and boosting up SSN allowance amounts for fighting against poverty and vulnerability.
Social safety net; Beneficiary selection; Allowance utilization; Monitoring; Bangladesh
Bangladesh has experienced a remarkable progress in
reducing poverty over the time period. The poverty rate has
declined at a rate of roughly one percentage point per annum
over several years (Ahmed 2007). The country has mostly
fulfilled the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of
halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015 through macroeconomic
and institutional policy reforms. The incidence of poverty has
declined from 48.9% in 2000 to 40% in 2005, to 31.5% in
2010 and to 24.8% in 2015. Similarly, the percent of people
below the lower poverty line has declined from 34.3 in 2000
to 17.6% in 2010 and to 12.9% in 2015 (Government of
Bangledesh (GoB) 2015). However, the extent of poverty and
vulnerability is still alarming in the country. The absolute
number of poor and vulnerable people is still very high. Recognizing
this reality, the government of Bangladesh has been
emphasizing on social protection as a pillar of poverty reduction. A
wellfunctioning safety net is an important element of social
protection strategy to fight with poverty (World Bank 2006).
Social protection has recently gained predominance and
political support almost without precedent in the context of
the development and poverty reduction discourse (Sepúlveda
and Nyst 2012). Social protection transfers help individuals to
strengthen and accumulate productive assets and thus help
them to enhance their future income earning capacity
(Barrientos and Scott 2008; Alderman and Yemtsov 2012).
Holmes et al. (2008) suggest that social protection reduces
the constraints faced by extremely poor households to engage
in productive activities. Evidences signal that social protection
programmes can significantly contribute to reducing the
prevalence and severity of poverty (Barrientos and Niño-Zarazua
2010). Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux (2008) suggest that
social protection must address social vulnerabilities caused
by structural inequalities and inadequate rights in addition to
providing economic support.
The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights
(UDHR) proclaims social protection as a basic human right.
ILO (2011) suggests that social protection can contribute to
women’s empowerment and social cohesion. UNICEF’s Social
Protection Strategic Framework illustrates that social
protection should directly support actions that tackle social
exclusion in accessing services and achieving an adequate standard
of living (UNICEF 2012). The constitution of Bangladesh
guarantees social protection as a fundamental right. The
ministry for social welfare in Bangladesh places special attention
on socioeconomic development and improvement of life
standard for the poor (Ahmed and Islam 2011). The government
launches social safety net (SSN) programmes to reduce
income uncertainty and variability, maintain a minimum
standard of living, and redistribute income from the rich to the
poor (Iqbal 2008) for promoting human rights and social
protection in the country.
The SSN programmes in Bangladesh include cash and
in-kind transfers, micro-credit schemes, and conditional cash
transfers for widows, disabled, blind, orphans, aged, and
such other disadvantaged groups. Each programme has
its own objectives and procedures. The coverage of these
programmes is very low and reaches to a very small part
of the targeted population. On the other hand, despite the
low coverage, multiple SSN programmes often serve the
same beneficiary, and benefits often go to those who do
not need assistance.
Fighting with poverty is the ultimate objective of the SSN
programmes being undertaken by the government of
Bangladesh since 1998. The local level government mainly
implements the SSN programmes in the country. However,
the inefficiency of local government failed to deliver the
expected quality and quantity of social services in some cases.
The limitations in beneficiary selection process, absence of
proper follow up and monitoring system, and lack of poor
people’s access to information regarding the social initiatives
are constraining the efficiency of the SSN initiatives. In
addition, lack of transparency, accountability, and responsiveness
of local government denies poor peoples’ access to social
initiatives and services.
Corruption and lack of accountability are common in SSN
programmes of Bangladesh which has made the public sector
SSN programmes somewhat dysfunctional. Some common
types of irregularities related to SSN programmes are:
Some local government bodies (for example, union
parishad) do not have the knowledge about SSN
programme and its implementation process.
The union parishad does not follow participatory way in
beneficiary selection process.
There is a prevalence of corruption and nepotism in
beneficiary selection process resulting in providing benefits to
people who do not meet the selection criteria.
& The beneficiary selection committees are sometimes
& Updated beneficiary list resulting from death, exclusion or
inclusion, and related other information of SSN
programme are not easily available.
& Sometimes, the mass people are in dark about the
eligibility criteria of being a beneficiary.
& The beneficiaries of SSN services sometimes do not
receive information regarding the distribution date and time
from respective implementing institutions timely which
results late or abandoned payment.
& The beneficiaries are sometimes harassed by the service
providers or implementing agencies while distributing
& In some cases, beneficiaries do not receive full amount of
allowance and often get poor quality of goods.
A well-functioning safety net is an important instrument of
social protection. However, the limited coverage and
inefficiencies within programmes hinder the stated programme
objectives. A mixed result is evident in addressing the objectives
of the SSN programmes in Bangladesh. While the
programmes are valuable in smoothing consumption, the
contribution of the programme is not remarkable for structural
changes in poverty (World Bank 2006).
Materials and Methods
There are 30 specifically designed SSN programmes in
Bangladesh (Morshed 2009) which are directly operated by
the government covering 8 unconditional programmes, 10
conditional programmes, 5 credit schemes, 3 conditional
subsidy programmes, and 4 funds. In addition, there are 15 funds
to provide further assistance for improving the overall
condition of the poor (Ahmed 2007). At least 14 ministries are
engaged in planning and implementation of these
programmes. In addition to these ministries, the Bangladesh
Bank and Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF) are also
involved in operating SSN programmes. Involvement of
multiple ministries and institutions causes considerable overlap in
programmes and administration which stretch the
administrative and resource capacity of the country (Ahmed 2005). The
existing SSN programmes do not provide a sufficient basis to
cope with the magnitude of extreme poverty. On average, 39%
of eligible households are covered by different programmes.
Therefore, more than 60% of eligible households are yet to get
benefit from a suitable SSN programme.
The transfer mechanism in Bangladesh is generally
homogeneous among the SSN programmes, where benefits are
transferred to individual beneficiaries. A general guideline is usually
prepared by the implementing agency of each programme. The
guideline mentions certain targeting criteria according to the
Table 1 Beneficiary selection
process of the ‘old age allowance’
Source: Field Survey (2011)
theme of the programme. These criteria usually include income
level, asset and household structure, and demographic features.
The local government body, such as union parishad, in
consultation with other local agencies and community, identify the
beneficiaries based on such criteria (Ahmed 2007).
Although the SSN programmes have gained momentum in
the country, the beneficiary selection and allowance utilization
are two vital issues to be evaluated to improve the state of SSN
programmes. Accordingly, the objectives of this study are:
The homogeneity feature of the transfer mechanism in
Bangladesh allows us to frame the methodology of this study
through selecting some of the ongoing SSN programmes
instead of covering all to narrow down the study coverage.
However, random sampling is applied in selecting the
SSN programs for the sake of generalization of the study
findings. Accordingly, this study randomly chooses (through
following simple random sampling technique) two programmes
from the ongoing 30 SSN programs to address the study
objectives. These are ‘old age allowance’ and ‘allowances for the
widow, deserted, and destitute.’ The ‘old age allowance’
programme served 2.475 million beneficiaries in 2012–2013 at
the expenses of 8.91 billion Bangladesh Taka (GoB 2013).
About 7.4% residents of the country are elderly people of
age 60 and above (Barikdar et al. 2016). The coverage for
‘allowances for the widow, deserted, and destitute’
programme was 0.92 million beneficiaries with a budget of 3.31
billion Taka in 2012–2013 (GoB 2013). Widowed, divorced,
and abandoned women constitute about 11.29% of total
married women of Bangladesh. However, the available data on
poverty, elderly, and widowed people are grossly inadequate
to estimate incidences of poverty among the older and
The ‘old age allowance’ and ‘allowances for the widow,
deserted, and destitute’ programmes are in operation in almost
every union of Bangladesh. However, due to time and other
limitations, the Gongarampur union at Batiaghata upazilla under
Khulna district of Bangladesh was purposively selected as study
site for this study. The socioeconomic feature of the people living
in the union mostly matched with the other areas of the country.
The total area of the union was 9273 acres with 17,065 people in
3787 households (BBS 2001). Among nine wards of the union,
this study randomly picked three: ward nos. 7, 8, and 9 for
collecting primary data through following simple random
sampling procedure. The study (through following simple random
Beneficiary (N = 46)
Table 3 Beneficiary selection
process of ‘allowances for the
widow, deserted, and destitute’
Selection criteria of the ‘allowances for the widow,
deserted, and destitute’ programme beneficiary
Eligible beneficiary (N = 66)
Source: Field Survey (2011)
Disqualification criteria of the ‘allowances for the widow, deserted,
and destitute’ programme beneficiary
Beneficiary (N = 50)
sampling technique) selected 188 respondents covering 122
‘old age allowance’ and 66 ‘allowances for the widow, deserted,
and destitute’ receivers and collected primary information
through using an interview schedule. The interview schedule
includes socioeconomic aspects such as income, expenditure,
family size, age, land holding, marital status, and so on. It also
includes the amount of received allowance and its usage. To
address the first objective of the study, the matching between
the collected data with the requirements of being the member
of the SSN programmes was analyzed. Similarly, the
disqualification criteria of the programmes were also considered for
tracing out the discrepancies (if any) for meeting the first objective.
The utilization of the received allowance money was also
compiled through interview schedule to address the second objective
of the study.
Result and Discussion
Beneficiary Selection for SSN Programme
‘Old Age Allowance’ Programme
This study considered one compulsory criterion and six
priority criteria for assessing the beneficiary selection process
under ‘old age allowance’ programme in the study area. The
Table 4 Disqualified recipients
of the ‘allowances for the widow,
deserted, and destitute’
survey findings of 122 respondents from the 3 wards of the
study area are summarized in Table 1. The compulsory
criterion was met by all of the surveyed respondents. However,
none of the recipients fulfilled all the priority criteria.
Specifically, none of the beneficiaries fulfilled the income
(criteria-1) or poor freedom fighter (criteria-3) related priority
criteria. The coverage of disability (criteria-2) criterion was
also insignificant. A good number of recipients fulfilled the
land (criteria-4) and marital status (criteria-5) related criteria.
About half of the respondents fulfilled the expenditure
(criteria-6) related criterion. The scenario attracts attention
for changing the selection criteria or intensifying monitoring
process or both.
There were five disqualification criteria of the ‘old age
allowance’ programme and more than one-third (46 out of
122) of the surveyed recipients fell within these
disqualification criteria. Table 2 shows the distribution of recipients
among five disqualification criteria. Receiving financial
support from elsewhere was the leading disqualification criterion
that was observed among the surveyed respondents.
This study considered two compulsory criteria and four priority
criteria for assessing the beneficiary selection process under
Utilization of SSN allowance by the beneficiaries
Source: Field Survey (2011)
‘allowances for the widow, deserted, and destitute’ programme
in the study area. The survey findings on 66 respondents from
the three wards of the study union are summarized in Table 3
which clearly demonstrates that two recipients did not fulfill the
first compulsory criteria, but they were getting allowance. All
of the recipients fulfilled the second compulsory criterion of
being a minimum of 18 years old.
None of the recipients fulfilled all the priority
criteria. Specifically, none of the beneficiaries fulfilled
the income (criteria-1) related priority criterion. The
coverage of disability (criteria-2) criterion was
negligible. Similarly, the number of recipients who fulfilled the
land (criteria-3) or having children (criteria-4) related
criteria were insignificant. This scenario also attracts
attention for changing the selection criteria or
intensifying monitoring process or both.
There were six disqualification criteria of the ‘allowances
for the widow, deserted, and destitute’ programme and more
than three-fourth (50 out of 66) of the surveyed recipients fell
within these disqualification criteria. Table 4 lists the
distribution of recipients among six disqualification criteria.
Receiving financial support from elsewhere was the leading
disqualification criterion followed by receiving allowance
from other safety net programmes.
The survey findings indicate that priority criteria were often
overlooked in selecting beneficiaries of SSN programmes.
Even in some cases, the compulsory criteria were also not
fulfilled by the recipients. It is clearly a misuse of government
fund. Lack of proper selection procedure and monitoring are
the reasons behind such discrepancies.
Utilization of SSN Allowance by the Beneficiaries
The second objective of the study was to assess the utilization
of SSN programme allowance by the beneficiaries. It
considered a total of 188 (=122 + 66) recipients under ‘old age
allowance’ and ‘allowances for the widow, deserted, and
destitute’ programme to address this objective. The utilization of
the latest allowance received by the beneficiary was analyzed
in this study (Table 5). A major share (60%) of the received
allowance was spent for food followed by health care (19%).
The share of other expenditure sources was insignificant
covering less than 5% each (Table 5). Therefore, it may be said
that, in the study area, a majority of the allowance receivers
are vulnerable people of the society. That vulnerability binds
them to spend the lion’s share of the received allowance for
Consequence of not Getting Access to SSN Programme
The beneficiaries of SSN programs in Bangladesh are in
general poor vulnerable people having limited access to basic
human needs. Data suggest that a large proportion of poor
and vulnerable households in Bangladesh do not have any
access to the SSN programmes (GoB 2015). Consequently,
they become economically more vulnerable. Hunger and
aggravated poverty are the ultimate consequences in many cases
for the elderly and widows who do not get access to the SSN
benefits. Micro-level corruption is also observed in some
cases as the indirect consequence of not getting access to
SSN benefits, if not direct. Hence, non-inclusion in SSN
programs ultimately exacerbates the social harmony and
structure of the country. In contrast, as Bangladesh has ratified the
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights, the country has some obligations in these areas.
Therefore, it is very important to think about how to increase
the number of beneficiaries under the SSN programmes in
This study finds that the beneficiary selection process of SSN
programme in Bangladesh is erroneous. We find that the
selection of 96 (=46 + 50) out of 188 (=122 + 66) beneficiaries
do not comply with the set beneficiary selection criteria. It
means that 51% of the beneficiaries were wrongly selected
through bypassing the selection criteria. Assuming that this
scenario is true for the whole country and considering the
country level macro data on budget and SSN allocation
(Table 6), the rough calculation suggests that nearly
US$ 2.86 billion were allocated for the wrongly selected
beneficiaries during 2007–2008 to 2011–2012 time periods!
While searching the reasons behind the wrong selection of
beneficiaries, this study finds that while there are rules and
regulations for selecting right people for the programmes,
most of the problems related to benficiary selection take place
during the implementation phase. During the survey, we
observed that the implementing authority was not well informed
about beneficiary selection process in some cases. Moreover,
corruption and nepotism invited beneficiary selection through
non-participatory approach in some cases. The beneficiary
selection committees were non-functional in some cases.
Sometimes, an updated eligible candidate list was not
available for selecting deserving beneficiaries. Information on
eligibility criteria and deadlines were not disseminated properly
in some other cases. The above listed issues are the main
reasons for wrong beneficiary selection.
The findings of this study clearly demonstrate the
importance of addressing the beneficiary selection process to
promote human rights and social protection in Bangladesh.
Proper monitoring will help to implement the existing rules
and regulations in beneficiary selection process. Information
dissemination, awareness development, and participatory
approach will also work toward addressing the arisen
inefficiencies. Strengthening the local government bodies that are the
prime movers in selecting beneficiaries and implementing the
programmes and making their activities transparent will also
help to bring efficiency in the process. Such initiatives will
contribute toward selecting the right people for the social
protection transfers, which will ultimately help to address
poverty, economic hardship, vulnerabilities, and human rights
(Alderman and Yemtsov 2012; Barrientos and Niño-Zarazua
2010; Barrientos and Scott 2008; Holmes et al. 2008; ILO
2011; Sabates-Wheeler and Devereux 2008; Sepúlveda and
The literature states that social cash transfers often enable
beneficiaries to make investment in productive activities and
enhance their earning capacity (Devereux et al. 2005; Gertler
et al. 2006; Alderman and Yemtsov 2012). Barrientos and
Scott (2008) suggest that social transfers need to be regular
and reliable and offer adequate level of support in order to
facilitate household investment and graduation from poverty.
However, it is evident from the study area that more than 60%
of total allowances received by the beneficiaries are spent for
food expenditure. It indicates that people are remaining under
vulnerable situation even after taking shelter under the SSN
programme. For the very reason, any type of sustained
improvement may not be visualized in the socioeconomic
condition of the beneficiaries. Therefore, it may be assumed that
the current state of beneficiary selection, implementation, and
monitoring may hinder in promoting human rights and social
protection in Bangladesh, the ultimate objective of the safety
This study finds that none of the surveyed beneficiaries
fulfilled all of the compulsory and priority criteria of selection.
For some priority criteria, the number of selected beneficiary
is nil. Therefore, this study recommends reviewing the
beneficiary selection criteria of SSN programmes to promote
human rights and social protection in Bangladesh. Moreover,
as the major share of the received allowance is spent for food,
this study recommends considering an increase in the
allowance amount. Such an increase might help the recipients to
channel some of the allowance money toward productive use
which might help them graduating out of vulnerability and
poverty over the time period, which is the prime mover for
promoting human rights and social protection.
The main limitation of this study is considering a small
sample size (N = 288) and focusing on only one selected
location. Hence, covering a wider sample from diversified
locations might help to validate and check robustness of the study
Acknowledgements The authors acknowledge the survey respondents
for providing valuable information. Acknowledgements are also due to
Economics Discipline, Khulna University, Bangladesh for granting
permission to conduct the study as a partial fulfillment of MDS degree.
However, the views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and
do not necessarily reflect the views of the respondents or of the concerned
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