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Policy Expectations and Programme Reality: The Poverty Reduction and Labour Market Impact of Two Public Works Programmes in South Africa


  • Anna McCord


ESAU Working Paper 8 presents evidence from sample surveys, conducted among beneficiary households in Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal provinces, of the effectiveness of public works programmes in solving the problems of unemployment and poverty in South Africa. The programmes are implemented under the auspices of provincial public works departments. The paper contrasts the Limpopo programme, which provides full-time temporary employment in the majority of cases for dependents who are half male and half female, with the KwaZulu Natal programme, which provides part-time but permanent employment for beneficiaries who are poorer, almost all women and, in majority, household heads. Though the wages paid make a significant contribution to beneficiary households’ cash incomes, the research finds that the multiplicity of objectives set for public works leads to inefficient targeting. The temporary public employment model does not increase the longer-term employability of selected beneficiaries, in a labour market characterised by an excess supply of unskilled and semi-skilled labour. Former beneficiaries return to unemployment, and their household incomes drop. The permanent,part-time, employment model implemented in KwaZulu Natal, in which beneficiaries are selected by their communities on grounds of poverty, is more effective as a means of supplementing the incomes of the poor.

Suggested Citation

  • Anna McCord, 2004. "Policy Expectations and Programme Reality: The Poverty Reduction and Labour Market Impact of Two Public Works Programmes in South Africa," Working Papers 8, Economics and Statistics Analysis Unit (ESAU), Overseas Development Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:odi:wpaper:8

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    Cited by:

    1. Anne Case & Anu Garrib & Alicia Menendez & Analia Olgiati, 2013. "Paying the Piper: The High Cost of Funerals in South Africa," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62(1), pages 1-20.
    2. Anna McCord & Dirk Ernst van Seventer, 2004. "The economy-wide impacts of the labour intensification of infrastructure expenditure in South Africa," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 093, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    3. Charles Meth, 2004. "Half Measures: The ANC's Unemployment and Poverty Reduction Goals," Working Papers 04089, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
    4. Geeta Kingdon & John Knight, 2007. "Unemployment in South Africa, 1995--2003: Causes, Problems and Policies," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(5), pages 813-848, November.

    More about this item


    Unemployment; poverty; public works programmes; South Africa; labour market;

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