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Public works: Policy expectations and programme realities

This paper explores the ability of public works programmes (PWPs) to promote employment and reduce poverty. Public works are a key component of the current social protection framework in South Africa, constituting the only significant form of social support for the able-bodied working age unemployed, and are ascribed considerable potential in terms of addressing the central challenges of unemployment and poverty. Despite this policy prominence, the targeting of public works programmes and their micro-economic and labour market impacts have not been studied systematically in South Africa, rendering evidence-based policy development in this area problematic. This paper attempts to provide some initial responses to these questions in order to establish an evidence base for future policy development, and to identify some of the key policy lessons arising, drawing evidence from two case studies, the Gundo Lashu programme in Limpopo, and the Zibambele programme in KwaZulu Natal. The paper also reviews the policy context, and the characterisation of the unemployment problem in the policy discourse. The paper concludes that while PWPs can offer a partial response to the problems of poverty and unemployment if appropriately designed, the gap between policy expectation and programme reality is significant, and that PWPs cannot offer an adequate social protection response to the growing problem of the working age poor. The paper asserts that there is a need to recognise that PWPs can have only a limited role in the context of entrenched and structural unemployment, and that supply-side interventions are of limited value in response to poverty and unemployment among the low-skilled, given ongoing structural shifts in the South African economy and the delinking of economic growth and employment.

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Paper provided by Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town in its series SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers with number 079.

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Date of creation: 2004
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Handle: RePEc:ldr:cssrwp:079
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  1. Stephan Klasen, 1997. "Poverty, Inequality and Deprivation in South Africa: An Analysis of the 1993 SALDRU Survey," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 51-94, July.
  2. Hoddinott, John & Haddad, Lawrence, 1995. "Does Female Income Share Influence Household Expenditures? Evidence from Cote d'Ivoire," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 57(1), pages 77-96, February.
  3. Case, Anne & Deaton, Angus, 1998. "Large Cash Transfers to the Elderly in South Africa," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1330-61, September.
  4. Datt, Gaurav & Ravallion, Martin, 1994. "Transfer Benefits from Public-Works Employment: Evidence for Rural India," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(427), pages 1346-69, November.
  5. Angus Deaton, 2003. "Measuring Poverty in a Growing World (or Measuring Growth in a Poor World)," NBER Working Papers 9822, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Cally Ardington & Murray Leibbrandt, 2004. "Financial Services and the Informal Economy," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 066, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  7. Ingrid Woolard & Murray Leibbrandt, 1999. "Household Incomes, Poverty and Inequality in a Multivariate Framework," Working Papers 99031, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
  8. H. Bhorat & J. Hodge, 1999. "Decomposing Shifts in Labour Demand in South Africa," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 67(3), pages 155-168, 09.
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