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Brazil increases support for low-income families

It has been hailed as a Latin America success story and used as the inspiration for many other poverty-reduction schemes; now Brazil’s ‘Bolsa Familia’ programme for low-income families is to be expanded even further.

The Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, has announced the introduction of further support measures to be provided through the Bolsa Familia programme.

Families living in extreme poverty with children under the age of six will now receive 35 dollars every month for each family member. The government says this will benefit around 18 million Brazilians. Under new proposals, 1500 day care centres will also be created. These will provide services to low income families, so that mothers are freed up to go out to work. In addition, further support will be given to health centres, in order to provide low-income families with nutritional assistance. The Brazilian government particularly wants to target cases of anaemia and Vitamin A deficiency among children, as well as to make asthma medication available free of charge.

The first Bolsa Familia programme was launched in 2003 and is credited with helping Brazil reduce poverty significantly. According to the World Bank, in 2003 21% of the population was below the poverty line but this had dropped to 11% in 2009. Extreme poverty also decreased dramatically, from 10% in 2004 to 2.2% in 2009. But despite the success of the social programme, inequality still remains at relatively high levels for a middle income country and poverty remains stubbornly high in the north and north-east of the country, where drought and poor harvests have exacerbated the regions’ problems. Dealing with these persistently-poor areas and with the remaining section of Brazilian society stuck in poverty will be hard.

Announcing the extension of support through the Bolsa Familia programme, President Rousseff expressed her determination to tackle poverty “at its root” and to provide low-income mothers with greater support on “health, education, food diversion and hygiene”. She spoke of the programme as being “the most important weapon in the fight against infant poverty”. Like many Brazilians, in a country where Gross Domestic Product grew 7.5% in 2010 and where incomes have generally risen (even the poorest 10% of the population have seen an average rise in their income of 7% per year between 2001 to 2009), the President believes it is unacceptable for some Brazilians, many of them children and adolescents, to be living in abject poverty.

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