The Rise of Social Assistance in Brazil


  • Armando Barrientos

  • The article greatly benefited from comments and suggestions of two anonymous referees, and from participants at the Conference on ‘Anti-poverty programmes in a global perspective: Lessons from rich and poor countries’, WZB, Berlin (20–21 June 2011).


The rise of social assistance in Brazil has been remarkable. The 1988 Constitution signalled a renewed ‘social contract’ leading to citizenship-based social assistance providing guaranteed income to older and disabled people in poverty. Municipal activism in the 1990s extended the provision of direct transfers to all households in poverty through Bolsa Escola and other programmes later consolidated into Bolsa Família. This article studies the origins and evolution of social assistance institutions in Brazil, paying due attention to the role of ideas and politics.