Fighting poverty: The case in Turkey

Fighting poverty: The case in Turkey

Mr. Micawber, the main character in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield novel, often finds himself noticing that he ends up with happiness if his income is twenty shillings and expenses are nineteen shillings and six pence. On the contrary, he finds himself in a misery if his income is twenty shillings and expenses are twenty shillings and six pence. In today’s world, it is still that easy to fall under the misery line and the most vulnerable group among the poor population is unfortunately the children.

According to the data provided by the State Institute of Statistics, one fifth of the child population is below the poverty line in Turkey. The situation is much worse for children who are living in the rural segments of the country.

Against this background, there has been an increasing international concern over the problem of child poverty mainly in the developing world with several public policy suggestions as to how to tackle this grave problem. Poverty alleviation programs that involve targeting have become one of the popular and effective tools for combating child poverty. Conditional Cash Transfer (hereafter CCT) is one “haute couture” of such programs, which provides money to poor families contingent on certain requirements, such as sending their children to school and paying monthly visits to health centers. The CCT has been a widespread program adopted in several places including Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. In line with this global trend, in the wake of a severe economic crisis in 2001, Turkey adopted its CCT (Şartlı Eğitim Yardımı and Şartlı Sağlık Yardımı) as part of a World Bank-assisted Social Risk Mitigation Project in 2002.

Conditional cash transfer practice in Turkey

Despite its popularity, CCT has been the subject of few studies under the Turkish context. We can highlight two major positive features of the CCT on the basis of its design that differentiate it from traditional previous social assistance schemes. First, the Turkish CCT is distributed regularly, which might potentially decrease the possibility that it would be tempered by electoral cycles. The cash transfer is distributed two months in a row throughout the year, excluding the summer holiday when schools are closed. In a country like Turkey, which has a notorious history for political distortion of material incentives by political parties, the fact that the CCT is a regular transfer might be deemed as a positive step in the direction of preventing political manipulation in comparison to irregular transfers.

Second, one of the major extant problems with social assistance programs is that they could lead to subordinate relations between the recipients and the distributor. However, the CCT has the potential to break with this subordinate vicious cycle since the receipt of this social assistance scheme is contingent on children’s attendance in schools and health clinics. In this respect, there is less room for a political maneuvering in the case of the CCT and it might have the potential to foster a direct rights-based relationship between the state and its poor citizens given its design features where recipients could claim their CCT benefits as long as they comply with the conditions.

Mine Tafolar is a PhD candidate at theGovernment Department at the University of Texas.
Gökçe Baykal is a PhD candidate at the Political Science Department at Rutgers University.