Report Nº: 88616/11/2020
The national government generically announced the expansion of the Universal Child Allowance (AUH). To achieve this goal, it is not advisable to eliminate the educational and health conditionalities. What is needed is to reduce the bureaucracy of the State to control conditionalities in a more effective way.
The Universal Child Allowance (AUH) is a welfare payment for families with children whose adults are unemployed or in informal employment. The difference with other welfare programmes is that 80% of the benefit is automatically paid, while the remaining 20% is subject to compliance with some conditions. These are defined as medical control for children under 5 years old and school attendance between 5 and 18 years old.
These conditionalities seek to induce parents to prioritise the health and education of their children. Conceptually, the idea is to promote a high-impact investment in the future of the children. From an instrumental point of view, the procedures used by the social security agency (ANSES) to control them are primitive. Families are required to submit a Family Allowance Booklet in paper format where the health centre or school certifies that the family has complied with medical checks and their children’s school attendance.
In this context, the government announced the extension of AUH coverage to the many children and young people who are currently excluded. Addressing this announcement needs to quantify these cases and identify the reasons about why they are outside the AUH. According to ANSES data, it is observed that
These data show that the level of exclusion is high and that it is largely associated with public sector’s failures. On the one hand, the archaic procedures that prevail in civil registries prevent many people from having access to their identity registration. On the other hand, equally archaic are the procedures used by ANSES to control the conditionalities. Subjecting families, health centres, schools and the ANSES itself to mobilising large quantities of paperwork is very costly and not effective at all. In practice, many families are excluded because they were not able to overcome the bureaucracy, even though they could have complied with the conditionalities. Others, without complying, continued collecting the allowance thanks to their ability to deal with the paperwork.
Some officials and organisations dedicated to the study and defence of children’s rights question the existence of the conditionality. They point out that the child is penalised for their parents’ negligence. The argument overlooks the fact that it is not the children who receive the allowance, but their parents. In this sense, the conditionality is not a burden on the child but on the parents. It is they who are induced to take responsibility for the care of their children. Certainly, the problems of poor families are complex and not always an economic incentive is enough to reverse such adverse a situation. But to eliminate the conditionality means the degradation of the AUH to another welfare plan as usual.
It is not the conditionalities that should be questioned but the low quality of public sector’s management. In the current state of technology there is no reason for the Civil Registry to function so poorly. Only public servants’ laziness explains why people are still deprived of the right to identity. Nor is there any reason why the ANSES and the provincial health and education systems should not exchange information digitally in order to exercise permanent control over conditionalities. This would ease the administrative burden on citizens by saving time and money on unproductive paperwork. It would also trigger alerts for municipalities to intervene early with social workers in support of the household that no longer complies with the conditionality in order to put the situation back on track.
Conditionalities in the AUH are one of the few innovations in the welfare policy in Argentina. Removing them would make the AUH a programme similar to the “Trabajar Plan” of the ’90s, the Heads of Household Plan of 2002 and many others currently implemented efficiently. On the contrary, with innovation in public management, the AUH can become a tool for social progress.