Keywords: public works programmes, wages, welfare, employment guarantee, social assistance, South Africa, India, Ethiopia, workfare, minimum income, developing countries, cash transfers, job creation, social assistance, poverty reduction
Employment guarantee or minimum income? Workfare and welfare in developing countries
In many 'developing' countries widespread poverty is linked to landlessness and unemployment. Two possible responses to such poverty are employment guarantee (or public works) programmes and cash transfers. In general, low-wage job creation is the preferred option of both elites and citizens, but in South Africa cash transfers through a minimum income programme might, perversely, be more viable politically and effective more broadly in terms of poverty alleviation. The relative viability and efficacy of employment guarantees and cash transfers depends primarily on prevailing wages in the 'market'. In a high-wage economy such as South Africa, the political power of organised labour is generally sufficient to prevent low-wage employment creation in public works programmes. In the South African context – in contrast to low-wage settings such as India or Ethiopia – the extension of public welfare might be more viable than an employment guarantee, although the political obstacles should not be under-estimated.