Turok, Ivan (2017). 'People, place, poverty and policy' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Summary: This thematic panel session comprises four papers that examine the interrelationships between people, place and poverty through the lens of human capabilities. They explore the ways in which people respond to spatial divides through physical mobility; the various systemic and policy obstacles they face in the process; and the extent to which they achieve successful outcomes. Put simply, what are the factors and forces that help and hinder households from getting ahead through exercising new-found freedoms and moving to cities? These findings are used to reflect on the wider implications for the human capabilities approach; for other concepts of inclusive economic and social development; and for government policy towards housing, informal urban settlements, urban labour markets and informal enterprise.

Background: South Africa is one of the most unequal and unevenly developed territories in the world. Large areas were under-developed historically and entire communities were forcibly removed off well-located urban land to marginal places on the periphery, where they were disempowered educationally and deprived of decent public services. The entrenched social inequalities and spatial divisions have created formidable obstacles to change. The underlying structure and dynamics of income and wealth have persisted since 1994, despite major changes in social policy. Hence the gulf in occupations, earnings and well-being between people and places remains as wide as ever. This is a source of growing disenchantment and social instability.

Paper 1: The evolution of spatial inequalities. This contribution provides a novel analysis of how spatial inequalities in South Africa have evolved since 1994 and the implications for human living standards and well-being. It considers the changing extent and nature of territorial divisions at two spatial scales – between regions and within cities. It also examines the shifts in population over the last two decades as households adjust to variations in economic opportunity and the possibility of improvements in income and employment. The paper demonstrates the widening gap between relatively affluent and impoverished areas, and offers tentative explanations for the cumulative, self-reinforcing patterns and processes, including the role of agglomeration externalities, institutions and path dependency.

Paper 2: Informal urban settlements and social mobility. This paper analyses the influence of informal settlements on the well-being and all-round development of resident populations. It fills a gap in research on the role of shack areas in facilitating human progress and social mobility. In theory these settlements can foster human development by linking rural-urban migrants to the services, contacts and job opportunities concentrated in cities. The paper uses longitudinal data from the NIDS survey to explore the magnitude of economic and social progression among people living within informal settlements compared with the residents of rural areas and formal urban areas. It finds that there may be some advantage from living in an informal settlement compared with a rural area, but the effect is not very strong. Perhaps more importantly, the impact appears more substantial in the more dynamic and buoyant Gauteng city-region than in other SA cities. The paper concludes by reflecting on the implications for theories of urbanisation and human development, and for government policy and practice towards informal urban settlements.

Paper 3: Obstacles to the growth of the informal economy. This paper considers how human livelihoods are shaped by space and place, and how wider social and regulatory practices can constrain their success. It focuses on informal enterprises operating - or seeking to operate - in urban townships, affluent suburbs and central cities. It examines the influence of national regulations and municipal by-laws in causing vulnerability and insecurity, and in inhibiting investment in the growth and development of micro-enterprises. At worst, stringent national and local policies and procedures result in harassment, exclusion and criminalisation. This undermines the contribution of the informal economy to the reduction of poverty, inequality and unemployment. A more flexible regulatory framework with more realistic norms and standards could create space for entrepreneurial dynamism and facilitate the regularisation and growth of more robust and sustainable businesses. The paper draws on an extensive programme of interviews with associations representing micro-enterprises, various government authorities at national and local levels, and a range of intermediary organisations and NGOs.

Paper 4: Housing investment in informal settlements. Decent housing is crucial to the successful assimilation and integration of migrant households into cities, and to reduce their vulnerability to fires, flooding, social violence and the spread of disease. This paper considers the factors that influence the decisions of shack dwellers to invest in decent structures rather than spending on consumption or transferring resources to families in rural areas. It also analyses their ability and willingness to borrow money to invest in housing rather than in other commodities and consumer durables. The process of upgrading informal settlements depends on a partnership between government and community, with both sectors committing energy and resources to improving shelter, services and infrastructure in shack areas. This includes the regularisation of informal settlements to give residents some tenure security and thereby encourage and enable longer-term decision-making. The paper draws on a large survey of shack dwellers to provide evidence to interrogate and substantiate these propositions. It concludes by drawing implications for government policy towards housing and informal settlements.

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