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Social protection depends on sound redistributive policies

Social protection depends on sound redistributive policies

“Countries with high levels of post-tax inequality grow slower and for shorter periods than those that have a more equal distribution of income” according the University of the Witwatersrand social protection expert, Professor Alex van den Heever.

Van den Heever visited Windhoek during May as guest lecturer of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation at their 3rd public lecture at the University of Namibia, speaking on the topic ‘The Social and Economic Impact of Social Protection’. He participated in the Forum for Experts on Social Protection, sharing the podium with Dr Bernie Zaaruka, the Senior Economist at the Bank of Namibia, and Mr Klaus Schade of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Disecting the efficacy of redistributive policies, Prof van den Heever said “Social security systems are the most important structural intervention to ensure that societies as a whole can access a decent standard of living. This is achieved by ensuring that risks associated with important unavoidable social contingencies, such as health need, having children, becoming disabled, living in poverty and becoming unemployed are shared by society as a whole.”

In the absence of transformative comprehensive social security systems, change will not occur and the most vulnerable will remain so, he argued, adding “The idea that a country can grow its way out of poverty is false, and all countries, regardless of their levels of development will experience systemic poverty and inequality in the absence of appropriate redistributive schemes.”

Prof van den Heever said the high levels of poverty and inequality that characterize the countries such as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are outliers internationally and suggest causes driven by government policies rather than an unfortunate set of unavoidable circumstances.

“South Africa has become more unequal in the post-Apartheid period, suggesting that the residual and minimalist redistributive framework in place allows the benefits of and economic growth to accrue to a very small minority of wealth owners and high-income earners. In the absence of government intervention, income distribution is determined principally by power distributions rather than the productivity of society” he said.

“High levels of unemployment are in all likelihood caused by the post-tax distributions of income rather than alternative explanations – such as the productivity of labour. This is because distorted income patterns distort consumption patterns and the associated development of industry” he continued.

Since progress in sub-Sahar Africa is still mostly based on mining and agriculture and not on manufacturing, as in Asia, “Sub-Sahara Africa needs to compensate more through income transfers to achieve a more balanced road to economic development and growth.”

He concluded “An important distinction must be made between social security regimes that are minimalist, and consequently entrench patterns of social stratification and those that are transformative and dismantle these patterns. The target of policy should therefore be to implement transformative comprehensive social security systems.”

Prof van den Heever holds the Chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The Friedrich Ebert Foundation in partnership with the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Namibia have established the “Forum for Experts on Social Protection” for dialogue and exchange between experts, specialists, academics, consultants and policymakers on Social Protection.

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