Challenging inequalities through policy relevant academic research.


March 2020

Dear friends,

We hope that you are well. The social distancing and subsequent lockdown has required that everyone has had to adjust and adapt their whole lives at the drop of a proverbial hat. This has been extremely disruptive on many levels – organizational, professional, personal, and societal. This disruption requires a greater level of patience, understanding, and empathy as we adapt and adjust to our new set of circumstances. In addition to concerns about contracting the COVID-19 illness, either for ourselves or those that we care about, there are other additional stressors that come from feeling isolated and disconnected from our usual communities. These can cause an increase in anxiety, depression, and related mental health concerns. We sincerely hope that everyone is taking greater care than usual, and seeking help where appropriate.

Despite all of these challenges, we in SALDRU continue to push forward to the best of our ability. We are all working remotely if possible, although this has not been feasible for some of our ongoing fieldwork operations. In less than a week, everyone is SALDRU has familiarized ourselves with new online technologies, and we are now Zooming all over the place at lightning speeds. We also see more starkly the resilience of people in the face of adversity, and the deep well of goodwill at the core of team SALDRU.

Our desire to do high quality and meaningful work shines as brightly as ever. As much of this research focusses on rigorous assessments and evaluations of poverty, inequality and labour market policy options, there is an important role for SALDRU to play in the difficult months to come. Indeed, over the last few weeks, extraordinary demands have been placed on the SALDRU team. We are extremely proud of our team, from the most junior and to the most senior, for their willingness to put their hands up and make contributions. As an illustrative example, a team of young Saldrupians - Ihsaan Bassier, Josh Budlender, and Rocco Zizzamia - worked tirelessly over the past two weeks to make an excellent evidence-based policy recommendation targeted at the most vulnerable in our society. It is so inspiring and strengthening to work within such a group!

Our lead article in this month’s newsletter relates to the national budget, and some of the challenges facing the government. Even before the pandemic arose, there were several competing challenges for the minister to address, and these were reflected in the budget that was proposed in February of this year. These difficulties have been greatly amplified due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and some fundamental changes in our society and economy are likely to follow. Dr Andrew Donaldson, our resident public finance expert, shares some of his insights on this topic.

As we adapt to our new ‘normal’, we continue to make progress with our research activities. A group of Saldrupians published a timely policy-focused paper in The Conversation, highlighting the efficacy of the Child Support Grant as a mechanism through which the state could alleviate the likely hardships that will arise from the COVID-19 lockdown. Rocco Zizzamia published an excellent article on the link between unemployment and poverty in World Development. Kim Ingle continued our outreach activities when she gave a presentation at the UCT Open Data Day, on ways to increase data accessibility.

Best wishes,

Murray Leibbrandt
Director, SALDRU
Vimal Ranchhod
Deputy Director, SALDRU

The 2020 Budget, COVID-19 and the challenges ahead

Image: Steve Buissinne on Pixabay.

Following another year of sluggish growth and revenue under-performance, Minister Mboweni’s 2020 budget had to achieve a near-impossible balance between fiscal consolidation and support for economic recovery. It is not just that real gross domestic product growth was low - inflation and nominal growth were also well below expectations, contributing to both lower revenue and higher real debt servicing costs. This indicates a failure of monetary and fiscal policy coordination. It has made the budget challenge that much harder.

Now that South Africa is in lockdown and the world faces an economic decline that will be deeper and more rapid than the 2008 great recession, both fiscal consolidation and support for economic recovery will have to be deferred. The world has changed and both monetary and fiscal policies at the national level will have to adapt to the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic impact of the lockdown. Read more.

South Africa can – and should – top up child support grants to avoid a humanitarian crisis

Image: Frantisek Krejci on Pixabay.

In this just-published article in The Conversation, Saldrupians Ihsaan Bassier, Josh Budlender, Prof. Murray Leibbrandt, Prof. Vimal Ranchhod and Rocco Zizzamia argue that South Africa’s lockdown will hit informal workers and their households hardest and that a top-up to the Child Support Grant is needed to mitigate this impact. Government’s approach to providing relief to households has until now been focused on the formally employed through the Unemployment Insurance Fund. While necessary, these relief measures exclude approximately 45 percent of South Africa’s workers and the households that depend on their income. These informal workers will suffer the most during the lockdown. Without relief measures targeted at these workers’ households, the decline in earnings in the informal sector will have a devastating impact on poverty and food insecurity in South Africa. Read more.

UCT Open Data Day 2020

Image: Kim Ingle talks about ways of breaking down barriers to the use of published open data as part of her UCT Open Data Day lightening talk. Photo: UCT Libraries via Twitter.

Open Data Day was internationally celebrated on Saturday, March 7th of this year. As a part of this celebration, UCT’s Digital Library Services hosted its second Open Data Day event on Friday, March 6th. The keynote address was given by Gabriella Razzano of OpenUp on The importance of Open Data for equal development in South Africa. This was followed by a series of intriguing 10-minute lightening talks presented by data “stewards and champions” in UCT projects, units and departments; Digital Library Services staff, and analysts who use open data (see the event schedule). One of the speakers was Salrupian Kim Ingle, who drew from her experience while working as part of the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) team (the first five waves of which were implemented by SALDRU) and spoke on Thinking about increasing data accessibility holistically: examples from NIDS (view Kim’s presentation and read a tweet about the talk). Other speakers spoke about a wide variety of open data projects and their experiences, challenges and possibilities of the movement towards open data, as well as interesting examples of the use of open data. In the spirit of openness, most of the presentations have been made available on UCT’s institutional data repository Zivahub here

J-PAL's response to COVID-19

Image: Miryam Leon on Unsplash.

As of March 17th 2020, J-PAL has suspended all research activities that involve in-person interactions. The letter from the Global Executive Director can be read here. In light of this, J-PAL's Global Research and Training team have compiled best practices on transitioning from in-person surveys to online or phone-based surveys. The resource includes J-PAL Africa's tips on Surveying Young Workseekers in South Africa. In addition, Tavneet Suri (Associate Professor of Applied Economics at the MIT Sloan School of Management; J-PAL Africa Scientific Director) and her team have shared insights from transitioning a large-scale survey for the Universal Basic Income Kenya project from in-person to phone interviews, with a focus on shortening and adapting questionnaires to be conducted via phone. The webinar and slides can be found here


Is employment a panacea for poverty? A mixed-methods investigation of employment decisions in South Africa

Unemployment is a key determinant of poverty in South Africa and labour market inequalities reflect deep-rooted socio-economic inequalities. In a context of high rates of poverty and unemployment, we would expect a job loss to be associated with a decline in wellbeing. Using nationally representative panel data and original qualitative data collected in Cape Town, this study finds that, on average, this hypothesis holds. However, this aggregate effect conceals heterogeneities in the relationship between labour market transitions and wellbeing which are of special analytic interest. In particular, this study focusses on those cases which go against the grain of the overall labour market-wellbeing nexus – that is, cases in which black, urban youths turn down or quit wage work. An analysis of these examples helps illuminate how disadvantaged workers face non-negligible disincentives to certain forms of low-skill employment and reveals the circumstances under which these disincentives may outweigh the disincentives to unemployment. Access here.

Citation: Zizzamia, R. (2020). Is employment a panacea for poverty? A mixed-methods investigation of employment decisions in South Africa. World Development, 130, 104938.

For more SALDRU working papers, journal article contributions and policy briefs, please visit OpenSALDRU.

Digital Identification and Finance Initiative for Africa deadline extended

Image: Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay.

In the face of the tremendous uncertainty and hardship of present times, as a first interim step, J-PAL Africa's Digital Identification and Finance Initiative for Africa (DigiFI Africa) has extended the deadline for its Round 2 Request for Proposals (RFP) cycle by 30 days. DigiFI proposals are now due on the 17th of April 2020 (previously the 20th of March 2020). Similarly, all DigiFI reporting requirements due in the next 60 days will be extended by 60 days. Please reach out to if you have any questions. Read the RFP.


SALDRU Seminars

SALDRU Seminar 4th March 2020 Estimating the Distribution of Household Wealth in South Africa, by Amory Gethin from the World Inequality Lab and the Paris School of Economics.

SALDRU Seminar 11th March 2020 The Individual Deprivation Measure: South African country study results by Dr. Helen Suich from Crawford School of Public Policy.

Please note: In order to decrease risk and spread of the COVID-19, as well as aligning with the university's decision on minimising gatherings, all SALDRU seminars are cancelled until further notice.

For information about past and future seminars, click here. To subscribe to our seminar mailing list, click here.
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