Some key lessons for equity in public spending from Mexico

Mexico’s experience in public investment in children is very interesting and highly valued by other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The efforts to identify and estimate the resources designated to children in the country’s federal budget are impressive, as they use a rigorous methodology of calculation that has been replicated by other governments.

Mexico once again offers us new lessons on these issues through the ‘Report on Equity in Public Spending on Children and Adolescents (Informe Sobre La Equidad del Gasto Público en la Infancia y la Adolescencia)’ recently published by UNICEF and UNDP in that country. This report presents for the first time the level of human development among children and adolescents disaggregated by variables such as sex, age, ethnic identity, geographic location and income level. The report also contains an equity analysis of public spending in human development and examines the results of the distribution of resources in the dimensions of health, education and income, which are considered fundamental elements for the fulfillment of rights and the expansion of liberties.

The objective of this publication is to determine if public policy actions favor the realization of children’s rights and development of their capacities or not. Additionally, it asks whether the distribution of public spending on children favors equality. Lastly, it offers recommendations to achieve greater effectiveness in the distribution of public federal resources and better results for children.

The methodology used in the report for analyzing public spending equity was used for the first time in Mexico in 2011 and can be applied in any country that has undertaken a national income survey.

The results of this study offer us, once again, from Mexico some key lessons and challenges shared with the rest of the Latin America and Caribbean region, such as:

  1. For public spending to be equitable it should be proportional to the specific deprivations identified with relation to children’s rights.
    Public spending should serve as a tool to achieve greater equity, not to reinforce or worsen the existing inequalities in the fulfillment of children’s rights. As the report states, “To the measure that the allocation is pro-poor, greater will be the capacity of public spending to promote equality of opportunities.”
  2. Public spending has a direct relation to human development levels.
    Public spending is a tool to strengthen the capacities of children and adolescents in health, education and income and to improve the opportunities that these bring. Equitable public spending in human development promotes the effective enjoyment of rights and promotes equality of opportunities. The Mexican study demonstrates very clearly that greater investment in a particular social dimension, will lead to greater development in this area.
  3. It is important to identify spending according to different age groups and thematic groups of rights. Public spending should respond to the evidence which has demonstrated the greater effectiveness of investing in integral development in early childhood given that delays in growth and cognitive development during these first years can be irreversible. At the same time, public health and social assistance programs become more costly for children as they get older.
Kids around a table in a classroom
UNICEF/MEXA2015-00030/RichterChildren learning together in their classroom.

Although the Human Development Index is a tool that simplifies that measurement of some child rights, it doesn’t cover all of them. Public investment in children should seek the integral and progressive fulfillment of all rights. In the case of Mexico, for example, social programs that are not in the realm or education and health are scarce.

These lessons and other findings of the UNICEF and UNDP report are presented in Mexico at a particularly relevant moment for the country as the Proposal for Public Spending for 2016 is being debated. This plan for public spending needs to take into account an adequate budget allocation to roll out the recently approved General Law for Children’s Rights. The priority that a government gives an issue is made visible through its budgetary allocation and, without a doubt, this new law requires a strong showing of budgetary prioritization in its initial phase of implementation.

The need for adequate financing with a focus on equity for interventions related to the human development of children is a message that should cause a strong echo in the entire Latin America and Caribbean region where the concentration of income and social disparities continue to be more acute than in any other part of the world.

Post by Monica Darer, UNICEF Regional Social Policy Specialist in Latin America and the Caribbean; and Maria Fernanda Paredes, Social Policy Officer at UNICEF Mexico.



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