South Africa, like many other middle-income countries, is rich but plagued by high unemployment combined with a high poverty rate. In such contexts, social policy has a key role to play in alleviating poverty – but which form should it take? Brazil has gone the conditional cash transfer route with Bolsa Familia but, in this week’s Global Labour Column, Hein Marais provides seven compelling reasons for using a Universal Income Grant to alleviate poverty. Marais argues that while job creation is essential, it has to be part of “a wider realisation of social rights”.
Not only would a universal income grant lift the unemployed out of poverty, it would also provide economic independence to unskilled workers who receive low wages. Moreover, because a universal income grant would be given to everyone, the cumbersome administration associated with means-tested grants can be avoided. Finally, a universal income grant would allow women who are not employed in the labour market to be paid for the social reproduction conducted in the home. All in all, it is an emancipatory tool that would immediately reduce“the depth and scale of impoverishment”. Writer and journalist Hein Marais is the author of the new book South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The political economy change, published by UCT Press and Zed Books. It is available online and at good bookstores.
Here are 7 reasons why a universal income grant makes more sense.
- Earning a decent secure wage is not a prospect for millions of South Africans..
- Having a job does not automatically shield against poverty.
- Social grants separate millions from destitution but it is ill-suited to today's realities.
- Targeted and means-tested social protection is burdensome, costly and humiliating administration.
- A universal income is developmental and would boost wellbeing.
- A universal income can be powerful emancipatory tool, especially for workers.
- A universal income treats women as citizens, not merely as caregivers and bearers of children.