Cash transfer programs in Southern Africa: the emergence of the new welfare states?
Cash transfer programmes have expanded rapidly across the Global South in recent decades, providing non-contributory cash transfers directly from government coffers to impoverished citizens, effectively lifting them out of poverty. Hailed as a major development story and a revolution in social policy, these programmes have had a remarkable impact on poverty reduction and social welfare in Southern Africa.
With the intention of highlighting the impact and limitations of these programmes, and suggesting a way to overcome the dilemmas involved in implementing this type of policy, Jelena Vidojevic, co-founder and research fellow at the New South Institute, has recently published an article in the special issue of the journal “Ревија за социјална политика” (Journal of Social Policy). The special issue, entitled “Beyond the North-West Frontier: Social Policies in the Global East and the Global South” was published by the Institute of Social Work and Social Policy of the Faculty of Philosophy of Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, North Macedonia. In her article, Vidojevic explores the political and social significance of cash transfer programmes in Southern Africa, using the metaphor of a ‘development revolution from the Global South’ to highlight their transformative impact on poverty reduction and social welfare in the region – while pointing to their inability to address structural social problems on the African continent.
Drawing on the outstanding impact of cash transfer programmes in southern Africa, Vidojevic’s article shows us the potential that a basic income policy would have in the region.
Vidojevic criticises the conservative notion of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving poor’ that limits the scope of cash transfer programmes. She proposes a basic income as a potential solution to the mass structural unemployment and poverty affecting many countries in the region. Despite the simplicity of the concept, Vidojevic argues that the potential impact of a basic income can be transformative, as evidenced by the success of cash transfer programmes across the region. She notes that these programmes have also had various unintended positive effects on social indicators and social stability.
Drawing on the outstanding impact of cash transfer programmes in southern Africa, Vidojevic’s article shows us the potential that a basic income policy would have in the region. She proposes the introduction of a universal basic income grant in Southern Africa as a potential solution to the exclusion of working-age, able-bodied men from current social welfare programmes, which could have a transformative effect on poverty reduction and social justice in the region.
However, as Vidojevic points out, policymakers in Southern Africa and elsewhere in the world remain reluctant to embrace the idea and step out of their reality bubbles. Nevertheless, Southern Africa is both a site of global trends and an important welfare experiment. Vidojevic’s article reminds us that the idea of a basic income has recently gained momentum in the region, and its potential impact on poverty reduction and economic development cannot be ignored. The empirical evidence from Southern Africa and other parts of the Global South strongly suggests that basic income can contribute to strong improvements across a range of development indicators. We hope that Vidojevic’s research can stimulate further discussion and action towards the implementation of a Basic Income in the region and beyond, as it has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in the Global South.