The first full evaluation of Moldova's main social assistance programme
Ludovico Carraro, Kevin Carr, Ajutoral Social
The Ajutoral Social programme is part of a radical reform that aimed at moving away from small categorical benefits to targeted benefits that can contribute more radically to poverty reduction. Though it is the main social assistance programme in Moldova, and has operated since 2008, no full evaluation had previously been conducted. Our evaluation of its role and impact looked at the relevance, effectiveness, and sustainability of the programme, with the aim of informing any eventual needs of improving the legislation, and the overall direction of the social protection system in the country.
We also provided technical advice on different aspects of the design and implementation of the programme, in particular the re-calibration of some of the key parameters that determine eligibility to the benefit: the income threshold, the means test mechanism, and specific incentives for people to participate in the labour market.
The reform, to move towards targeted benefits, has been pursued in Moldova with mixed success. Alongside some inevitable implementation challenges, population coverage has remained lower than expected, with most households receiving support for a limited period only. Between 2014 and 2016, however, coverage increased significantly, reaching the government targets. Nevertheless, some have questioned the effectiveness of the programme (suggesting that it does not provide sustainable solutions) and it was important that our evaluation address these concerns.
We started by reviewing the theory of change and verifying the extent to which this is understood and supported by the key stakeholders and political actors, and whether there is long-term commitment for the programme. Next, we assessed whether the benefits are being received by the intended beneficiaries. We looked for evidence of the impact of the benefit in terms of poverty reduction (using the annual household survey conducted by the National Bureau of Statistics) and some key indicators of living standards (nutrition, ability to afford expenses for heating, education and health, avoidance of negative coping strategies, and access to credit). We also reviewed key aspects of the design of the programme and identified whether some of the key parameters that determine eligibility need to be adjusted, providing adequate evidence for our recommendations.
Our approach involved the collection and analysis of different data sources:
- key informant interviews with stakeholders and political actors;
- a quantitative survey with a regression discontinuity design;
- a qualitative study; and
- the analysis of the national household budget survey and the management information system for the social assistance benefit.
Finally, we conducted specific dissemination events to communicate the findings of the study to the relevant stakeholders.
The outcomes of the study provided the government with evidence of the real impact of the programme, and with recommendations that can strengthen its role and future sustainability, and thus help more beneficiaries more effectively. In particular, the main recommendations to strengthen the impact of the programme were to:
- better protect recipients from financial health risks;
- enhance support into the labour market; and
- review exit conditions and establish a minimum duration of support.
The analysis also recommended a set of improvements in the implementation of the benefit.