Summaries This article asks whether social policy in the South meets social needs. We argue that in poor countries, social policy as conventionally designed and delivered leaves the needs of the poor inadequately addressed – and identify two key reasons why this is so. The first is that northern models of social provisioning were transplanted to poor countries with little adaptation to local realities; the second arises from the top?down and sectoral nature of social policy. The result is a mismatch between the provision of social goods and services and actual needs. We propose criteria for assessing whether social policies match needs, and discuss initial steps which might bridge the identified gap.