Working Paper
Inclusion amid ethnic inequality

Insights from Brazil’s social protection system

Policy frames in Brazil have long run up against conflicting visions and understandings about the causes and consequences of group-based inequality. This paper argues that a class-based lens has dominated the social protection framework.

In recent years, political leaders have framed social policy measures along ‘universal’ class lines with the aim of improving poverty and wellbeing. This framing is reflective of Brazil’s national narrative on race relations and the idea that class and employment status have been the most salient barriers to social welfare protections. Brazil’s widely well-regarded anti-poverty conditional cash transfer programme, Bolsa Família (2003–21), is emblematic of the country’s universal and ‘race-blind’ approach to social policy. But given the strong correlation in Brazil between ethnicity and income, social protection policies such as the Bolsa Família have indirectly targeted vulnerable black and brown citizens.

The analysis addresses how social policy has contributed advances to wellbeing in general and for Afro-Brazilians. A comparative perspective on social welfare systems offers important lessons on how poverty relief can further human development and enhance agency. Future reformers can learn from Brazil’s pursuit of poverty reduction alongside administrative procedures that identify vulnerable groups, as a strategy to address intersectional inequalities of ethnicity and class.