At her election last year, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff declared that tackling poverty would be one of her main aims. Following this promise, last week the Brazilian government announced a new welfare initiative. The ‘Brazil Without Poverty’ scheme will be targeted at those earning less than 44 dollars each month and living in the poorest regions. It will expand on the existing ‘Bolsa Familia’ or Family Grant programme, which provides monthly cash payments to poor families and is already credited with raising 20 million Brazilians out of extreme poverty.
The existing Family Grant pays up to 153 dollars a month, depending on the household income and number of children. It is usually paid to mothers and is conditional on children being vaccinated and attending school. However, sometimes families are failing to collect the benefits to which they’re entitled and the new scheme has the objective of reaching more of the destitute. For example, many of Brazil’s poorest families live in the north-east regions, where it can prove difficult to access benefits. The Social Development Minister for Brazil, Tereza Campello, told the BBC’s reporter that the ‘Brazil Without Poverty Scheme’ would change the thinking that “it is up to a poor person to come to the state” and instead “ensure the state reaches out to the poor person”.
The Minister spoke of her government’s ongoing commitment to the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDG), saying that Brazil’s aim was to be the first developing country to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. The UN has already recognised Brazil’s significant progress towards this goal. In 1992, 16 per cent of Brazil’s population were surviving on less than a dollar each day but according to the 2010 census, this proportion had halved to 8 per cent.
Brazil is also well on course to meet the fourth MDG, which calls for a two-thirds reduction in child mortality. In 1991, over 50 children under five died for every 1,000 live births, but by 2009 this had dropped to around 20. Brazil has also made solid progress in reducing malnutrition, with around 2 per cent of children under five underweight.
However, women’s rights groups point out that while strong progress has been made in many MDG areas, maternal mortality rates are still shockingly high compared to other countries with a similar economic status. For every 100,000 live births, nearly 60 women in Brazil die each year from pregnancy-related causes. The Brazilian government has acknowledged that 90 per cent of maternal deaths could be prevented and more needs to be done. Women’s groups hope that the Brazilian government will begin to prioritise health services for women, as it has other areas of development.