Author Archive

The demographic landscape in South Asia

19 June, 2012

Recent changes in the demographic landscape of South Asia are producing handsome gains. Fertility and mortality are declining, survival chances are better and there is prolongation of later life. Demographers and public policy analysts attribute this to improved economic performance, the growing outreach of public healthcare services, and reductions in absolute poverty.
Sri Lanka has secured notable achievements, especially in its socio-demographic and health indicators.  Maldives, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh are not far behind. India has reduced its fertility and mortality levels significantly. More than half of its major states have already achieved replacementlevel fertility and it is fast shaping a bulge in favour of working age youths and older adults.
Pakistan is projected to converge soon to joinothers. Afghanistan, unfortunately, remains the exception.
A growing bulge in the region’s younger population has two important economic repercussions.

• A youth bulge leads to a rise in new job seekers. Adopting appropriate economic policies to create more employment
opportunities for them holds the promise of a demographic dividend.
• A growing older population raises issues of income security and health provision.

Much of South Asia has yet to develop policies that explicitly target both these issues. Old age income security still needs to be fully addressed. Employment opportunities, particularly in the organised sector, are also severely lacking.
A South Asia regional conference was organised by the Institute of Economic Growth (Delhi) in 2008, to examine these challenges. It brought together international scholars, including demographers, economists, labour market specialists, poverty analysts and medical doctors. A selection of papers has recently been published in an edited volume,1 highlighting four dimensions of the research and policy challenge:
• Changes in country demographics of the region: opportunities and challenges.
• Bulge of the younger cohorts and meeting employment needs of the growing number of labour market participants.
• Rapid ageing and missing pillars in income and health security provision for the old.
• Achieving population and health MDGs in India and South Asia.

Two clear messages emerge from this research.

Firstly, South Asia is ill-prepared to face the challenges of ageing that will become increasingly visible over the coming years.
Second, the demographic dividend might not be fully realised, due to the failings of South Asian countries in ensuring broad-based opportunities for education, skill formation and decent work.

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The time for making poverty history is now

12 May, 2010

In rich countries a handful of dollars does not go very far, indeed most people in the UK wouldn’t think twice about spending this on a cup of coffee.  But one in five people in the world today has no choice but to survive on less than US$2 a day, and 1.5 billion people struggle to live on less than US$1. The vast majority of those affected are children, each an individual story of unfulfilled hope and potential.

Few would dispute that ‘a world free from poverty’ is the overwhelming challenge of the 21st century. The crucial issue is how to achieve this. In Just Give Money to the Poor:  The Development Revolution from the Global South (Kumarian Press, 2010), Hanlon, Barrientos and Hulme discuss a wave of new thinking on development that is sweeping across the South. Instead of relying on a large and expensive aid industry to find ways to ‘help the poor’, it is better to transfer money and resources directly to the households in poverty so that they are able to find effective the most effective ways to escape from poverty.

This is the premise behind social transfer programmes such as Mexico’s Oportunidades, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, South Africa’s Child Support Grant, and India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. They all provide regular transfers of money to households in poverty with the aim of improving their nutrition, making sure children go to school, and ensuring that expectant mothers have regular check-ups.

This does not rule out the need for investment in economic growth and basic services. Small transfers to very poor households help provide access to new economic opportunities and vital health and education services. Without such transfers, the costs of transport, school uniforms, medicines, and job search could well be prohibitive.

Social transfer programmes do not throw money from helicopters. They carefully select and monitor recipients, ensure they are well informed about objectives, and track outcomes. In Latin America, transfers are paid directly to mothers thus strengthening their voice within the household. The responsibilities of the government and the households are carefully discussed at registration.

Despite attempts by the aid industry to take credit for these initiatives, social transfer programmes are most often national responses to local problems. Brazil’s Bolsa Familia began as a municipal programme in Campinas in 1994/5 and is built on domestic learning and experience of what works to reduce poverty. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme, which guarantees one hundred days labour on demand to unemployed rural heads of household, also builds on a careful assessment of similar programmes in Maharashtra and elsewhere.  . Social transfer programmes have high set up costs and for this reason international assistance is important in low income countries. Nonetheless, sustainability and legitimacy requires domestic political support and finance in the medium term. Giving money to households in poverty is a ‘Southern project’, as the considerable diversity of programmes around the developing world demonstrates.

Important challenges remain, especially in low income countries lacking the capacity to design, deliver, and finance social transfer programmes. In many countries their institutionalisation is precarious. The existing social transfer programmes need to be seen as a first stage in the development of  strong and stable institutions,  able to protect poor and vulnerable populations in the South from the volatility and crisis of the global economy on. Acknowledging these challenges, the book makes the important point that knowledge on how to eradicate poverty is already freely available if only we care to learn from the South.

Armando Barrientos – Professor and Research Director, Brooks World Poverty Institute

Addressing child poverty in South Africa

31 March, 2008

There is growing interest in the potential role of social transfers in tackling poverty and vulnerability in developing countries. Social transfers are tax-financed transfers in cash of kind paid to households in poverty. Enhancing the purchasing power of those in poverty to help them reach a basic living standard is hardly a novel approach to poverty reduction in developed countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, some policy makers have reservations on whether this approach could work. In many countries in the region, poverty incidence is high, fiscal resources are very limited, and delivery capacity is threadbare. Several pilot social transfer programmes in Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, and Ethiopia are producing much needed knowledge on how these restrictions can be lifted, and on the effectiveness of social transfers.

Francie Lund has written a book on the policy debates and processes leading to the introduction of the Child Support Grant in 1998 (Changing Social Policy. The Child Support Grant in South Africa, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, 2008, The Grant now reaches 8 million children in poor households in South Africa. As Chair of the group tasked with producing a review and report for the Government of South Africa which led to the Grant (the 1995 Lund Committee for Child and Family Support), a leading social policy academic, and a ‘welfare activist’ (her words), no one could claim to be better placed to write this book. The book is written with the immediacy of a main protagonist, but with the critical detachment of a researcher, a rare feat. For anyone interested in how we are to address child poverty, in South Africa and elsewhere, this is a ‘must read’. The book will also be of interest and benefit to those concerned with policy processes in developing countries.

South Africa has relied on social transfers as the main response to poverty since the 1920’s when an old age grant was introduced for poor whites. Over time, grants reached other groups, and the end of apartheid in 1994 led to the elimination in racial discrimination in access to the grants. The Lund Committee was set up to consider what support the new administration should give children in poverty. Its conclusion was that a social transfer paid to the caregiver, but which ‘followed the child’ was the most effective strategy. The extension of the rights of children which the transfer represents will, in the years to come, be acknowledged as a milestone.