Page 104 - UCT Research Report 2011

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UCT Research Report '11
When the late Alan Pifer, then president of
the Carnegie Corporation, decided in the
early 1980s that the time had come for a
follow-up to Carnegie’s 1932
First Inquiry
into Poverty
or the
Commission on the Poor
White Problem in South Africa
– it was to a
UCT labour economist that he turned.
Professor Francis Wilson, of UCT’s Southern African Labour
and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), would lead this
defining study on poverty in South Africa titled the
Inquiry Into Poverty
, published as a book,
Poverty: The South African Challenge
, in 1989.
At the end of 2011, Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price was
speaking to Professor Wilson about breaking ground on
a third such study; this time, however, the aim would be
to develop a set of suggestions and guidelines – “not
prescriptions,” says Professor Wilson – for the National
Planning Commission on how best to combat poverty and
inequality in South Africa.
“We all agree that there’s now no need to do any further
mapping of poverty in the country – been there, done
that,” notes Professor Wilson, now an emeritus professor at
the university. “But what we really need to focus on is how
we’re going to overcome poverty, and how we’re going to
overcome the terrible inequality in society, and what works
and what doesn’t work.”
Redefining poverty studies
SALDRU is still redefining poverty studies in South Africa.
One of its many projects is the National Income Dynamics
Study (NIDS), described on page 73, which aims to
track income, expenditure, assets, education, mental and
physical health, and subjective well-being of the same
28 300 individuals over time, starting in 2008.
Such longitudinal studies are commonplace in developed
countries, but are only now beginning to be used in
Africa, explains Professor Murray Leibbrandt, the SALDRU
director and holder of the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Poverty
and Inequality Research. They give us a “wonderful lens
on South Africa’s unfolding social dynamics”, he adds, but
also offer very practical social science.
“Surveys like NIDS are very useful to government as
tools of evidence-based policy research. We’re beyond
measuring levels of poverty and levels of inequality, and
trying to explain what generates these levels and the
impacts of policy. We need surveys like this to do that.”
The economics of poverty
SALDRU is not the only research group at UCT shaping
poverty-related policies. Right across from its offices in the
university’s new Economics Building are the offices of the
Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU).
Under the direction of Professor Haroon Bhorat, who holds
the DST/NRF SARChI Chair in Economic Growth, Poverty
and Inequality, the DPRU has been collaborating with state
departments and international institutions on many projects.
Among its current batch is a first-of-its-kind study on
the impact of minimum wages and the enforcement of
minimum-wage legislation, conducted on behalf of the
Department of Labour. Working from a collection of national
surveys, the DPRU has been measuring, firstly, compliance
– and non-compliance – with minimum wage legislation
across a range of sectors; secondly, they looked at what
role minimum wages had on employment statistics, among
other measurables.
Their findings were varied, as could be expected, reports
DPRU researcher Natasha Mayet. South Africa doesn’t
just have one minimum wage, but more than 36 that are
scattered; depending on variables such as sector, size of
the firm or even occupation.
They found, for example, that larger firms were more likely
to be compliant. In some sectors, like agriculture, they were
not too surprised to see that enforced minimum wages
meant a cut in employment numbers; while the retail sector
actually experienced an upturn in employment, but with
fewer hours being worked by employees.
At the same time, the unit also studied the role of the
enforcement agency and its small and overrun battalion
of inspectors, part of a three-country study. All this data,
covering new ground, will slowly filter into public policy,
says Mayet. “This is an emerging area of debate and
research, especially in South Africa.”
Employment promotion
Another initiative of theDPRU that is focusedon employment
is the Employment Promotion Programme (EPP), funded
by the UK Department for International Development. The
Turning the tide
on poverty
“What we really need to focus on is
how we’re going to overcome poverty,
and how we’re going to overcome the
terrible inequality in society, and what
works and what doesn’t work.”