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Understanding Poverty and Inequality in South Africa

Grappling with poverty and inequality, two of the key challenges facing South Africa, lies at the heart of most of government’s work.

Research suggests that since 1994 South Africa has made some progress in reducing poverty, with real earnings of the lower income groups increasing. While this is welcomed, the real concern is the widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Poverty is driven by inequality and cannot be addressed without resolving the root causes of inequality.

Due to structural inequalities in South Africa and the global economy, the benefits of economic growth have accrued to elites. In South Africa, research by SALDRU indicates that income shares are stacked towards the top 10%, with the lowest 5% of the population getting hardly any of the income. Inequalities between social classes and countries combine with discrimination based on gender, race, culture and sexual orientation to form patterns of poverty and exclusion that pervade the world today.

Dealing with inequality is a complex social and economic challenge. There is no silver bullet for addressing inequality. Labour and financial markets matter, and if structured correctly, can contribute towards more inclusive growth. However, they are insufficient on their own to eradicate poverty and inequality. Provision of social services – education, health and social protection – is important and helps to support poorer sections of society, but other substantial changes are required to address the structural imbalance in the country. Policies that facilitate inclusion are important for creating opportunities and improving the lives of citizens.

In short, there are no simple solutions and engagement between policy-makers, researchers and the broader society is imperative to finding solutions.

The programme

This course is presented in collaboration with the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development (PSPPD) in the Presidency. Four successful iterations of the course have been delivered – in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The aim of this course is to:

(I)  Provide senior government officials and policy makers with information on current debates within the poverty and inequality discourse;

(II)  Stimulate critical reflection of how their work is positioned relative to the poverty and Inequality response; and

(III)  Explore potential levers and strategies that can be applied towards the attainment of greater impact on poverty as well as inequality in South Africa

As far as possible, the course highlights lessons that can be derived from experiences locally, within Africa as well as internationally. Specific attention is given to identifying ways in which to ensure lessons gained within the course is translated into daily work practices.


What do participants gain from attending the course?

  1. A conceptual understanding of poverty, inequality and inclusive growth
  2. An understanding of the dynamics and causes of poverty and inequality at an individual, household and societal level
  3. An understanding of growth measurements and the relevance to understanding poverty and inequality
  4. Recognition of potential levers of change and strategies for tackling poverty and inequality as well as creating growth
  5. Deeper insight into trends in poverty and inequality reduction from around the world
  6. An understanding of the implications of existing government strategies and programmes on poverty and inequality in the country
  7.  A set of possible approaches and tools that departments can utilise to strengthen their responses to poverty and inequality


Who should attend the course?

The course targets officials in key line departments whose work is important in addressing the challenge of poverty and inequality. This includes the Presidency, National Treasury and the Departments of Social Development, Basic Education, Health and Human Settlements as well as the economic departments.


Previous participants’ descriptions of the course

“The course was great as an introduction to the concepts and nature of poverty and inequality South Africa. The quality of the speakers and presenters was excellent.”

“It clarified the spectrum and the depth of issues of poverty and inequality.”

“As a result of the course, I am a better, more empowered change agent. I have a clear understanding of poverty and how it is experienced and how it can be combatted.”

“The concepts of poverty, economic growth and equality are now clear and will inform my approach to policy development.”