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Bolsa Família and democracy in Brazil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1682-1699
Number of pages18
JournalThird World Quarterly
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2015

King's Authors


The conditional cash transfer (CCT) programme Bolsa Família (Family Allowance), introduced in Brazil in 2003, is one of the largest such programmes in the world. Bolsa Família has played a role in the recent reduction of poverty and income inequality in Brazil. But what has been its impact on democracy? An assumption in the literature on social policy, derived from the European experience, is that targeted programmes such as Bolsa Família divide citizens, erode trust between citizens and between citizens and the state, and weaken democracy. This article challenges that assumption, showing that there is considerable evidence that Bolsa Família has strengthened the citizenship rights of the poor and enhanced democracy. The Brazilian experience suggests that, in highly unequal developing countries under conditions of 21st-century capitalism, the argument that targeted social programmes will inevitably undermine democracy is incorrect.

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