The Uruguayan Plan de Atención Nacional a la Emergencia Social
Submitting InstitutionQueen Mary, University of London
Unit of AssessmentEconomics and Econometrics
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Economics: Applied Economics
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration
Summary of the impact
Marco Manacorda's research on social assistance programmes has been a
major influence on the design and evaluation of a flagship poverty
alleviation initiative in Uruguay known as PANES. Manacorda's work has:
- enhanced the programme itself by supplying an analytical underpinning
for the targeting of resources and a scientific basis for evaluation of
- influenced the government's decision to scale up the programme by
providing credible evidence of its impact on beneficiaries;
- shaped the public debate on the design and effects of social
assistance measures more generally, both in Uruguay and internationally;
- affected administrative practices in the public sector by stressing
the importance of collecting good data and using it effectively to
improve service provision.
Over the past decade a number of low-income countries have adopted new
social assistance programmes, typically involving cash transfers to
beneficiaries. One such programme was Uruguay's Plan Atención Nacional
a la Emergencia Social (PANES), a temporary poverty alleviation
initiative that from 2005-07 covered 14% of the country's population.
Manacorda has been deeply involved in both the design and evaluation of
PANES. His initial contribution (together with colleagues at UC Berkeley
and the Universidad de la República in Montevideo) was to the programme's
resource targeting mechanism. He later used data from PANES to study the
intended and unintended consequences of cash transfer programmes,
contributing to a lively debate about the optimal design of social
assistance measures in developing countries.
Crucial for the success of the project was establishing good working
relationships with and between an array of governmental and
non-governmental organisations, including the Uruguayan Ministry of Social
Development, Ministry of Public Health, and social security administration
(ie, the Banco de Previsión Social); as well as the Inter-American
Development Bank (IADB), which provided essential financial support. The
research involved both primary data collection and the use of large
amounts of detailed administrative data from various government sources.
Initial research focused on the mechanism used to select programme
beneficiaries based on an eligibility score. The nature of the scoring
rule allowed for an evaluation of the effects on recipients using a
regression discontinuity design. This and other empirical strategies were
able to demonstrate changes in several aspects of the behaviour and
well-being of cash-transfer recipients. For example, there was found to be
a significant increase in the proportion of beneficiary households that
favoured the incumbent government relative to its predecessor (see
reference #1 in Section 3 below).
A subsequent study, funded by the IADB under its project "Improving Early
Childhood Development in Latin America," combined PANES data with official
birth records in order to show that the poverty alleviation initiative
increased weight and other measures of health at birth among children who
received cash transfers in utero via their mothers (see reference #2 in
Section 3 below).
A third strand of research, again funded by the IADB under its project
"Social Assistance and Labor Supply in Latin America and the Caribbean",
linked social security and PANES data (see reference #3 in Section 3
below). This work confirmed that subjecting the cash transfers to means
testing — under which they are withdrawn when (declared) income exceeds a
certain level — created a disincentive to accept formal employment and led
would-be beneficiaries to instead take on casual work invisible to the
References to the research
1. `Government transfers and political support'. (With E. Miguel and A.
Vigorito.) American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3(3):1-28,
2. `Do cash transfers improve birth outcomes? Evidence from matched vital
statistics, social security, and program data'. (With V. Amarante, E.
Miguel, and A. Vigorito.) NBER Working Paper No. 17690, December 2011.
3. `Social assistance and labor market outcomes: evidence from the
Uruguayan' PANES. (With V. Amarante, A. Vigorito, and M. Zerpa.)
Inter-American Development Bank Technical Note No. 453, September 2011.
Details of the impact
Manacorda has been working in Uruguay since the beginning of the last
decade. Following a change of government in the national elections of
2005, he was invited to join colleagues at the Universidad de la República
in helping (pro bono) the new government design and evaluate PANES.
Over the intervening years, Manacorda's research on social assistance
policy has had an impact in four main areas.
1. Resource targeting.
To address the challenge of alleviating poverty in a population not fully
covered by official records, as well as to allow a quasi-experimental
approach to evaluating the programme, Manacorda and his colleagues
proposed a carefully designed resource-targeting mechanism. This proposal
was presented formally by Manacorda to the Minister for Social Development
at a 2006 public conference sponsored by the Presidency of the Republic of
Uruguay (see source #6 in Section 5 below), and was later adopted by the
government for PANES and some other social welfare programmes.
The targeting mechanism functions by computing for each household a
poverty index based on verifiable information collected at the time of
application for social assistance. Only those households scoring above a
pre-defined threshold on the index are deemed eligible for transfer
payments. This mechanism has been judged a success in identifying
genuinely impoverished Uruguayans. An independent appraisal by the World
Bank described PANES as "one of the most successful income transfer
programmes in terms of targeting effectiveness," with a higher percentage
of beneficiary households in the poorest quintile of the population "than
what was achieved in other programs in Latin America and around the world"
(see source #4 in Section 5 below; executive summary, point #14).
2. Programme evaluation.
As mentioned above, the resource-targeting mechanism used in PANES was
constructed in a way that allowed the programme to be evaluated
quasi-experimentally. Analysis of the data revealed clear evidence of
success both in poverty alleviation per se and in improvements to
the well-being of beneficiaries (whether impoverished or not). These
findings were communicated in technical reports (see source #3 in Section
5 below) and through discussions with officials in the Ministry of Social
Development, and they were an important factor in the Uruguayan
government's decision to scale up PANES and later to adopt the Plan de
Equidad (a comprehensive reform of the tax and benefit system
introduced in 2008).
3. Welfare policy debates.
Manacorda has actively disseminated the results of his research to a
variety of audiences. For example, in April 2011 he participated in a
policy dialogue on "Labor Markets and Social Security" at the IADB offices
in Washington, DC. This event — attended by 21 ministers and officials
from Latin American countries — offered the opportunity to inform
policymakers from across the region about the labour supply distortions
that can be an unintended consequence of social assistance policies.
Indeed, these effects proved to be significant in the Uruguayan case,
leading the government to reduce the strictness of means testing for some
entitlements and benefit programmes.
In addition to the IADB, Manacorda has presented his research findings at
the World Bank and at the OECD's Directorate for Employment, Labour and
Social Affairs. His analysis of the effects of PANES has been summarised
in a number of policy documents from the international institutions
already mentioned as well as from the UK Department for International
Development and the UN Development Programme (see sources #7-8 in Section
5 below). He has also given several interviews on social assistance
programmes to the local media (eg, Radio el Espectador and Televisión
4. Administrative practices.
A side benefit of the PANES project was the establishment of good
relationships with and cooperation between various public sector bodies,
including the ministries of social development, public health, the social
security administration and the university. This has materialized in a
formal protocol of data exchange, which has led to the sharing of best
practices for data collection, handling, storage, and release. More
broadly, the research carried out using PANES data gave Uruguayan
policymakers a compelling demonstration of the power of social science to
answer questions about the world when provided with a good quality dataset
and an astute empirical strategy.
Sources to corroborate the impact
The following individuals can address the impact of Manacorda's work on
- Former Minister of Social Development, government of Uruguay; on the
impact on PANES targeting criteria and the redesign of income
conditionality in the Plan de Equidad.
- Senior Labor Market Specialist, Labor Markets and Social Security
Unit, Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); on analysis of the labour
market effects of PANES and its influence on social protection policies
across the region.
Technical reports prepared for the Uruguayan government (under the
auspices of the Instituto de Economía, Universidad de la República,
- (a.) "Una propuesta metodológica para la evaluación del impacto del
Plan de Atención Nacional a la Emergencia Social (PANES)." (With V.
Amarante, R. Arim, and A. Vigorito.) 2006. (b.) "Informe final de la
evaluación intermedia de impacto del PANES." (With V. Amarante, G.
Burdín, and A. Vigorito.) 2008. (c.) "Informe final de la evaluación de
impacto del PANES." (With V. Amarante, G. Burdín, M. Ferrando, A.
Vernengo, and A. Vigorito.) 2009.
The World Bank's appraisal of targeting effectiveness under PANES is
- "Income transfer policies in Uruguay: closing the gaps to increase
welfare." World Bank Report No. 40084-UY, October 2007. Available at: http://goo.gl/VOlupS
- "Building on experience: improving social protection in Uruguay and
the Plan for Social Equity." World Bank "En Breve" No. 132, July 2008.
Other corroborating sources include:
- "Pautas de evaluación metodológica del impacto del PANES." Press
release from the Presidency of the Republic of Uruguay. Available at: http://goo.gl/nKwcyA
- "Cash transfers: literature review." DFID Policy Division, April 2011.
[See discussion of politics of conditional cash transfers on p. 43.]
Available at: http://goo.gl/nx7v8b
- "Poverty reduction and equity reading list." World Bank, June 2011.
[See p. 4. Reading list intended "to globally disseminate relevant work
among academics, practitioners and civil society."] Available at: http://goo.gl/MtkZgj
- "Estado asiste al 31% de la población." El Pais, 14 November
2010. [Local media coverage: "Las conclusiones de la investigación son
coherentes con los resultados de un estudio...de Andrea Vigorito, Marco
Manacorda y Edward Miguel, que concluye que los beneficiarios del PANES
`son significativamente más proclives a apoyar al gobierno que los no
beneficiarios'."] Available at: http://goo.gl/2CnLTf