By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – New research shows nearly three-quarters of Brazilians are in favor of continuing the Bolsa Família, an anti-poverty program that gives cash to families in return for ensuring their children attend school and are vaccinated. Most Brazilians, sixty percent, would rather pay more taxes and have better universal health and education, the research showed.
The Bolsa Família program was expanded significantly under former-President Lula in 2003. Under the program, poor families receive cash, conditional on their children attending school and health clinics.
The domestic welfare system has been credited with contributing toward a large reduction in poverty in Brazil and has even been reproduced overseas in cities, including New York.
However, some observers have questioned whether cash handouts are a long-term solution to poverty, and attribute the past decade’s poverty reduction to sustained economic growth.
“I noticed a strong support for social policies in Brazil – of Bolsa Família and of the minimum wage as well as a minimum pension, universal education and public health: all with percentages well above fifty percent,” said Celia Kerstenetzky, UFF Professor and coordinator of the Center for Research on Inequality and Development, in an interview.
However, the data also showed that more than fifty percent of Brazilians don’t believe the program is effective at bringing families out of poverty, while almost forty percent believe that the poor stay poor more for want of effort than a lack of opportunities.
Published Monday in Globo, the research was overseen by Professor Lena Lavinas of the Institute of Economics of UFRJ, and used a sample of 2,200 adults over sixteen to gauge public opinion about income inequality and anti-poverty measures.
“It is quite obvious that the way out from poverty cannot come through handouts – on the contrary,” said Antony Mueller, professor of economics at the Federal University of Sergipe, in an interview. “In as much a significant portions of Brazilian could make their way out of poverty and enter the middle class was because the Brazilian economy had a pretty long period of good performance.”
Presented with the statement “There will always be poor, so programs like Bolsa Família should not end,” 73.2 percent either agreed or strongly agreed. Only 16.2 percent disagreed, either moderately or totally, with the statement. More than sixty percent agree completely that the government should intervene to reduce inequalities between rich and poor.
“Brazil is really moving toward the European model of the welfare state,” said David Fleischer, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasília, in an interview. “No sane politician would propose abolishing Bolsa Família. It would be political suicide because there is such a large margin of public support for it.”
Despite widespread support for the program, the Brazilian population is split over whether the value of the benefit should be increased: although 63 percent of the sample believes that the cash benefit is small, 42 percent believe it should be increased, and 42 percent oppose an increase. Presented with the statement “Bolsa Família takes many people from poverty”, 58.9 percent disagreed to some degree.
Professor Kerstenetzky said the survey shows the Brazilian population is clearly in favor of the idea that the state is responsible for trying to reduce inequality, even if there are some divisions over the ways it should do so.
“The survey revealed strong support of the Brazilian redistributive function of the state and a major concern with inequality, along with the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to contribute to its reduction,” she said.