Targeting Social Protection Benefits, by Abraham Doron

Benefits, issue 31 May/June 2001, pp.10-13.
“Targeting of social security benefits has always been an integral part of social welfare policies. The introduction of the term ‘targeting’ into the current policy discourse is, however, of recent usage. All social benefit programs in the past were, in one way or another, targeted to serve specifically defined population groups, whether those in actual need or those at risk of being in need. There have never been programs that operated in an entirely indiscriminate manner in distributing their benefits. Resources have always been scarce and the main task of policy makers has been how to make best use of the limited resources available for social benefits. The policy issue is thus not whether targeting is necessary but how can it achieve the policy goals in the most effective manner,” (p.10).
The author discusses in detail the different targeting methods used in Israel, and concludes that targeting is done mainly by aiming benefits at particular demographic groups (children and pensioners) rather than by means-testing. As well as being targeted at groups which tend to be in relative need, these non-meanstested benefits aimed at these groups can be regarded as ‘targeted’ in the sense that the benefit will be a higher proportion of income for those with fewer other financial resources than for those with higher financial resources.
The article concludes: “The major issue in the debate ….. is not targeting in itself, because the need for targeting has always been recognised and accepted in practice. The issue is whether targeting takes place within programs designed to cater to the poor and low-income groups only through the use of means and income testing at the point of access, or if targeting is achieved within broader universal benefit systems and on the basis of group status criteria, without means-testing, proved to be more viable than the recourse to means testing and other individual behaviour criteria. The Israeli experience, for example, gives ample support for this view,” (p.13).
The article raises the question as to how the word ‘targeting’ should be used in debate in this country. The author defines ‘targeting’ as the directing of resources to serve particular groups. Thus Child Benefit is targeted: on children. If, as the article suggests, targeting means directing resources disproportionately towards certain groups, then a Citizen’s Income could be regarded as a means of targeting on people with low incomes, as its effect would be that of providing a higher proportion of net income for poorer families than for wealthier families and it would thus be directed disproportionately towards poorer families.