Public Works and Social Protection in Sub-Saharan Africa: Do Public Works Work for the Poor?


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  • Anna Gabriele McCord

    PW_front cover_web_rev
    ISBN-10: 92-808-1204-1,
    ISBN-13: 978-92-808-1204-6
    United Nations University Press
    October 2012

    Public Works Programmes (PWPs) are widely implemented throughout Asia, Latin America and Africa, often with funding from major international donor agencies. They are perceived to present a ‘win-win’ policy option, providing employment to the chronically poor while also creating assets for the state, and in this way offering a welfare transfer which is also a tangible economic investment.

    The prevailing view among donors and government agencies with responsibility for social protection is that Public Works Programmes are preferable to other measures to assist unemployed people living in chronic poverty. But is this view in fact correct? This book critically explores the concept of the Public Works Programme (PWP) and interrogates its social protection performance in the context of chronic poverty. It reviews over 200 PWPs in eastern and southern Africa using original research drawn from extensive field analysis, interviews and  survey work, and examines case studies of six international PWPs – in India, Argentina, Ireland, Ethiopia, Indonesia and the USA.

    The author explores the function and limitations of PWPs, and outlines major programme choice and design issues, drawing lessons from the international context, and challenging the assumptions underlying these policy preferences, thus opening the way for more informed and appropriate policy selection. The book makes a case for a reconsideration of the function of PWPs in the current social protection discourse, and argues that the current PWP approach may not look so attractive from the beneficiary perspective.

    This book is of interest to academics and students in development economics and sociology, policy-makers and -designers, and donor officials, such as World Bank and DFID.

    About the Author

    Anna McCord is a Research Fellow, Social Protection, at the Overseas Development Institute in London, and was previously Research Manager at the South African Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

    Table of contents:

    What are public works programmes?
    The social protection function of public works programmes
    Evaluation of the social protection performance of public works programmes
    The three vectors: Wage
    The three vectors: Assets
    The three vectors: Skills
    Two South African case studies: Context, methodology and analytical overview
    Assessing the incidence of the case study programmes
    Labour market incidence and impact of the case study programmes
    The impact of the case study programmes on multi-dimensional aspects of poverty
    Conclusion: Re-evaluating the assumptions underlying public works programmes

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