The rapid rise of social protection up the development policy agenda has been startling, even alarming. Part of the explanation is to be found in a growing recognition that social protection can be
functional to the achievement of bigger development objectives, including even economic growth and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Mounting evidence that well-designed social
transfers can contribute to poverty reduction is appealing to development economists and policymakers who were previously sceptical about social protection’s unloved parents, ‘social safety
nets’, which were disparaged during the 1990s as politically expedient, socially stigmatising and fiscally unaffordable in poor countries.
The ‘safety nets’ agenda was vigorously attacked equally from the left (for its social residualism and political cynicism) as
from the right (for displacing informal social security mechanisms and creating dependency on unsustainable handouts) until it curled up and died, only to be triumphantly reborn as ‘social protection’
around the turn of the millennium.