How much of your country’s social services budget is spent – and where does it go off track?
A guide for identifying budget deviations, per sector, as leverage for advocacy work related to improving spending related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
When governments don’t implement their budgets as planned or don’t spend where it is most needed to deliver crucial services and support under-served populations, that’s a problem of budget credibility.
Advocating for new and increased budget allocations to help deliver crucial social services to those who need them most is an important tool used by civil society organizations around the globe.
Now, let’s take that advocacy one step further, identifying by sector where money is being under- and overspent and leveraging that analysis to hold governments accountable for commitments made in the budget. It is also a tangible way of monitoring whether money is flowing as planned to critical sectors such as education, health and sanitation that support achieving the SDGs.
Achieving the SDGs is vital to governments, and ensuring those most in need get social services is of upmost importance. IBP and our partners spent 2 years analyzing budget credibility at the sector level and identifying service gaps to help governments better align their spending with those goals. In many cases, we found that spending gaps impacted critical social sectors significantly more than other sectors.
We’ve developed a blueprint you can follow to analyze budget credibility trends across sectors in your country and relate them to the SDGs. This guide will enable you to analyze whether and how budget deviations are depriving people of social services and undermining the country’s development goals.
While one of the SDG indicators, SDG 16.6.1, reports on government budget credibility, data is only available for aggregate central budgetary government expenditures. We’ve worked with civil society organization partners in nine countries and IBP staff in four countries to analyze trends in budget credibility from 2018 to 2020. We found that certain sectors are often prioritized over others. Similarly, research conducted by IBP across 35 countries in 2019 revealed that low-income countries underspent their budgets at an average of 14 percent, which was equivalent to the average total health budget of the 35 countries examined. Focusing on budget credibility and mapping key social sectors to the SDGs yields powerful information for budget advocates.
What sectors should you be looking at?
Any sector can be analyzed with this approach; we identified seven social sectors that correlate to 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals for our research. By using publicly available data to track these sectors, you can see how budget allocations compare to actual spending in each sector. By analyzing multiple sectors, especially social sectors, you will see which sectors are being spent at higher rates, and which at lower rates, as compared to other sectors and the overall budget.
Where can you gather data on budget credibility by sector?
Enacted Budget – These are typically approved by the legislature after debating the executive’s proposed budget. Most national budgets are approved according to administrative classifications and some by sectors or functions. When approved by ministries or departments, these can also be broadly mapped to sectors and SDGs to get a general sense of allocations in each sector.
Year-End Report – This report is produced by the executive after the fiscal year ends and reports on the government’s financial activities and performance. It should explain the differences between original estimates and the actual funds that were spent, across ministries and/or sectors.
Other publicly available resources include government data portals which often offer data on approved budgets and actual expenditures, data repositories, reports from other groups like the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability (PEFA) program, reports on the SDG process and outcomes, and audit reports by the Supreme Audit Institution.
What should you collect and how should you analyze the data?
The goal is to determine the entire initially approved allocations for the executed budget as a baseline and then how much was spent, or the actual expenditures at the end of the year. Calculating how much of the budget was spent gives you the budget execution rate, which can be compared to other sectors, the total budget, and tracked over time to look for trends. A sample spreadsheet for download can be found here.
You will need to adapt the research to each country’s context based on available budget and SDG data. For each sector, the spending deviation or variance can be calculated by the difference between actual expenditure and budget allocation divided by the budget allocation. The share of total spending can be calculated by dividing actual sector spending by actual total spending.
Once your analysis is complete, compare your findings to performance information in government reports and SDG trends. Most recent reporting on SDG trends can be found here. More data can also be found on the United Nations Statistics Division’s Global SDGs Database.
If you want to truly understand how your country’s budgeted funds are spent, looking at the aggregate isn’t enough. By breaking the budget into individual sectors, under- and over-spending on critical social sectors like health and education comes into sharp focus.
Leveraging this analysis with government to advocate for social service delivery
Advocating for better social service delivery using Budget Credibility findings can be challenging. However, we found that such advocacy can provide great leverage for awareness and change.
In Senegal, the findings were welcomed by the Sanitation Directorate and together with IBP they have agreed on an action plan to improve execution of the Sanitation budget.
Our key advocacy takeaway is that civil society must be interested in what happens during budget implementation. This can effectively be done by highlighting the urgency of improving delivery of key social services through understanding and addressing budget credibility problems.
Recommendations for governments
Our research found that most governments do not clearly explain budget deviations in their annual budget reports or offer justifications about why these deviations are happening and whether they are impacting the delivery of services that people need. Perhaps because of this lack of accountability, many government officials also do not clearly know why budget deviations persist and some sectors are shortchanged of resources – or how to fix it. Governments can do more to investigate why spending in social sectors deviates from the budget and identify options for reform. For example, while this varies by country, through our research with civil society groups we have found that governments likely can improve their budget credibility by:
- Ensuring timely release of budgeted funds.
- Strengthening the government’s revenue planning and forecasting function. Providing reliable government revenue forecasts could then fund planned spending.
- Streamlining bureaucratic processes that result in procurement delays.
- Improving the transparency of budget execution by reporting on detailed program-level budgets and spending, giving specific reasons for budget deviations, and sharing the impact of budget deviations on program and performance targets.
If you are a CSO interested in building a Budget Credibility initiative in your own country, please contact IBP Policy Manager Sally Torbert.