Policy Brief 3 – Towards a Decent Living Level

By Isobel Frye —

Policy Brief: Participative Construction of a Basket of Basic Goods and Services for a Decent Living Level in a Democratic South Africa

On 22 November 2013, Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII), the Labour Research Service (LRS) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) held a second seminar as part of the project “Constructing of a Basket of Basic Goods and Services in a Democratic South Africa”. This seminar followed the initial public seminar hosted at NEDLAC on 27 September 2013. The second seminar was attended by civil society organisations, the media, and academia. This report summarises the Context and Objectives of the Project, and then provides brief insights from the presentations made at the Seminar by the Labour Research Service, the Bureau for Market Research as well as SPII.

The aim of this ongoing work is to derive an understanding of what constitutes a broadly acceptable living level that should be used to reflect a basic living level. Central to this ambitious target is an awareness of the necessity of moving away from the minimalist ‘poverty lines’ that have been used in the design and evaluation of anti-poverty programmes. The use of such very basic levels, which are set out below, is dangerous in an upper middle- income
country such as South Africa that is already characterised by one of the highest levels of income inequality globally. Using such low levels might create more palatable poverty figures, but it dulls our ambitions of really ensuring that people live the life of dignity as guaranteed to them in the Constitution of South Africa1, let alone a life of one of greater equality as the Constitution further provides for. This work is thus inherently rights- based, rather than being a technocratic exercise. It is about trying to understand through asking ordinary people what such a decent living level should be for all in a post- Apartheid democracy.

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