Mardika Parama, Jakarta – Recipients of the government-funded social assistance Family Hope Program (PKH) have seen their livelihoods improve after receiving conditional cash transfers, according to research conducted by the SMERU Research Institute.
SMERU researcher Ekki Syamsulhakim said Thursday the program had successfully increased school enrollment rates, reduced stunting and prevented child labor by providing extremely impoverished families with an additional safety net.
"While the program has not performed well according to some statistical indicators, it has had a positive impact on some important indicators, such as the recipient families' health, and resulted in an intended behavioral change. In conclusion, the PKH has had a positive impact," he said during an online webinar held by the institute.
The government disbursed Rp 32.65 trillion (US$2.21 billion) through the PKH program to 10 million families last year, according to the Social Affairs Ministry. Each family received a base benefit of Rp 550,000 per year and added benefits depending on the family's circumstances, such as an additional Rp 2 million per annum if there was a high school student in the family.
SMERU's study found that the PKH had increased school re-enrollment by 53 percent for recipient families' children aged 7 to 15 years old who were not enrolled or had left school, and reduced the number of children engaged in wage work by 48 percent.
In terms of health, toddlers of recipient families are now 23 percent less likely to suffer from stunting. The research also showed that pregnant mothers that received PKH aid were more likely to deliver their children at a health facility.
Despite the success in reducing stunting, the PKH has not resulted in a significant increase in the child immunization rate or vitamin A consumption.
"The program has already shown a positive outcome. However, we need to strengthen the monitoring system and create a 'graduation' system for families so they are able to live without the aid," Ekki said.
The government hopes to help recipients "graduate" from the program within six years, by ensuring that their economic situations improve to the point that they no longer need to receive the assistance.
Despite the progress that has been made, a study by the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI) released in 2019 showed that social mobility among poor children in Indonesia remained abysmal.
The study, which analyzed Indonesian Family Life Survey (IFLS) data on more than 1,500 children aged between 8 and 17 from 2000 to 2014, showed that children who lived in poor families earned on average 87 percent less than children from more well-off backgrounds. In addition, children who live in the highest quintile earn 78 percent more during adulthood than those from the lower four quintiles.
"Poor children showed worse results in cognitive and math tests, remained in school for two years less than their counterparts and had lower access to health services. If we look at their earnings in 2014, there was a huge difference compared to non-poor children," SMERU researcher Mayang Rizky said during the discussion
Mayang, who also worked on the ADBI study, added that the government's cash transfer program (BLT) and rice subsidy (Raskin) program had not helped children escape from structural poverty nor provided them with better paying work in the future.
"From our study, we highly recommend that the government evaluate its programs in order to break the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty," she said.
Dyah Larasati, the coordinator for the National Team for Poverty Acceleration Alleviation (TNP2K), defended the programs during the webinar, saying that the Raskin and BLT programs were intended to help cushion the economic hardships felt by poor families and were not intended to be silver bullets to solve poverty.
"I think it's a bit of an overstretch to presume that Raskin and the BLT could improve their recipients' economic status. The BLT isn't given annually to families, so [alleviating poverty] is not the main target of the program. Instead, it's aimed at reducing economic shocks," she said.
The government has allocated Rp 695.2 trillion for its COVID-19 response, of which Rp 203.9 trillion has been set aside for social safety net programs, including the PKH and the staple food card program.
It had disbursed Rp 304.6 trillion or 43.8 percent of the funds as of Sept. 28, with social safety net spending accelerating while healthcare spending has continued to lag, said national economic recovery committee head Budi Gunadi Sadikin on Sept. 30.
The government has spent Rp 150.8 trillion, or 74 percent of the social safety net budget, in the hopes of softening the hit to consumer demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and helping people stay afloat amid the economic downturn.