Expanding, Not Shrinking Social Programmes: The Politics of New Policies to Tackle Poverty and Inequality in Brazil, India, China and South Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of London
Department Name: School of Advanced Study


While people in the West have been preoccupied with the economic crisis and the resulting contraction in social programmes, a crucial counter-trend has been largely overlooked by the media and by most researchers. This is the marked increase in recent years in government efforts to tackle poverty and inequality in four Rising Powers -- Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
This project will analyse what has happened, why it was possible, and how governments accomplished it in each of the four countries -- which together contain nearly half of humankind, and increasingly set the international agenda. The project will then systematically compare the four cases to gain insight into this overall trend.
The research will be conducted by four interdisciplinary teams of country specialists who also have strong comparative skills. Each country team contains an analyst who has participated in the policy process -- to offer insights from 'inside', and to help convey the project's findings to other 'users' in the 'real world' -- in and beyond their countries. There are 17 researchers in all, 9 of whom come from the countries being studied.
Their findings will be of use to scholars who study individual developing countries, plus those who specialise in comparative studies or global trends. They will also be helpful in connecting the project to other 'users' -- in governments, international agencies, and civil society organisations. Two United Nations agencies are partners in the project, and they will assist in placing findings before 'users' in all three categories. Many of the researchers have worked extensively with all three types of institutions -- in and beyond these four countries.
The project will pay special attention to senior politicians because they usually make most of the key policy decisions. Politicians have been unwisely omitted or marginalised in many technocratic studies of such themes. This project will also focus on politics because it is a potent influence on policy making. Technocratic studies often recommend programmes which will theoretically insulate policy from politics -- because they see politics as invariably destructive. But that is impossible to achieve -- politics is ubiquitous. And there is substantial evidence already in hand to show that politics can at times be a constructive force.
In all four of these countries, leaders have intensified efforts to address poverty and inequality in large measure for political reasons. They believed that it would serve their interests by enhancing their popularity and legitimacy. There is plenty of evidence to show that they were correct. This project will explore that issue exhaustively. If it shows that social programmes which address poverty and inequality are indeed politically advantageous to those who introduce them, then the project will publicise that finding vigorously -- because if leaders in other developing countries recognise that, they will become more inclined to follow suit.

Planned Impact

We expect to make an 'academic impact' among social scientists with an interest in (i) interdisciplinary research, (ii) research on the interplay of social forces and the political and policy processes; and (iii) comparative political and policy analyses. We will do so by publishing a major book comparing four 'Rising Powers', and further books and/or academic papers on each of the four cases. We will organise workshops (in each of the four countries), lectures and seminars -- and drafts of our analyses and 'briefs' on 'open access', on the websites of the project and of allied institutions (see below). For more detail on the identity and needs of academic beneficiaries, especially in the developing world, and our plans to address them, see the 'Academic Beneficiaries' section of this application and the 'Pathways to Impact' attachment here.
We also expect to make a significant 'economic and societal' impact. 'Users' have had a major influence in the design of our proposal, and their influence will continue as work proceeds. 5 of the 17 members of our research team are 'users' with strong links (which we will exploit) to many other 'users' in governments, international agencies, and civil society organisations (that operate within single developing countries, or internationally). They are Dr. Sarah Cook, Director of the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD); Dr. N.C. Saxena, former chief administrator of India's Planning Commission, now at UNICEF, and a member of India's National Advisory Councill which has devised many anti-poverty progammes; Dr. Yu Keping, head of a research institute in Beijing that advises the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on poverty and inequality; Dr. Mansueto Almeida of the Institute of Applied Economic Research, Brasilia, which works with the Brazilian government on those issues; and Leile Patel, now at Johannesburg University. who served as Director General of South Africa's Ministry of Social Affairs.
We will feed ideas from our research on how constructive processes and outcomes might be facilitated in developing countries (for specific ideas that will be relevant, see our 'Objectives' section here) into networks that include policy makers in government, international agencies, civil society organisations, and researchers. These networks are maintained by UNRISD, UNICEF, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the team at the UN Development Programme which promotes South-South policy dialogue, and over 20 research centres in an international network coordinated by the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit within the School of Advanced Study, London (which hosts this project).
We believe that our impact will be considerable in two of the ESRC's priority areas: 'enhancing quality of life, health and creative output' (not least the output of poor people, since policies that enhance their productive capacity loom large in our concerns), and 'increasing effectiveness of public services and policy' (since we focus on the design, implementation and outcomes of constructive policies). One of our aims is to demontrate to powerful actors in other developing countries that initiatives to address poverty and inequality are both feasible (politically, financially and administratively) and politically advantageous (since they enhance the legitimacy and popularity of governments that pursue them). If that is recognised (and our prior experience shows that it can be), more governments will tackle poverty and inequality.
More details -- including an account of our previous experience at impact -- are provided in our "Pathways to Impact" text, attached to this application.
Description This project, conducted by a 20-member team in seven countries, analysed the political and policy processes that were linked to intensified efforts to tackle poverty and inequality by governments in Brazil, India, China and South Africa after 2002. Our units of analysis were specific poverty initiatives -- five in each country. We first developed four single-country studies, and we then compared them. Our focus was on social programmes/polices that complemented the poverty-reducing impact of economic growth, and which sought to ease the widening inequalities that tend to come with growth.
First, we found that poverty initiatives proved feasible -- financially, political and administratively -- in each of the four countries. That strategies that they adopted differed somewhat, although there were also some parallels between countries. In each case, financial resources enabled initiatives: government revenues surged in China and India, but the more modest resources that were available in Brazil and South Africa also sufficed. These initiatives did not cause great fiscal damage -- the financial problems in Brazil and South Africa in recent years were mainly caused by changes in the international economic system. Governments' underlying aims differed. In Brazil and India, they were mainly intended to attract votes; in China and South Africa to damp down instability. But all four governments found that poverty initiatives served these purposes -- they were politically advantageous.
Second, we found that politics and politicians -- regarded by some as negative influences on policies to promote development and to tackle poverty -- can play constructive roles. We also found that they are not, as some commentators argue, locked into 'path dependency' -- so that they are unable to overcome unhelpful legacies and to innovate. In three of the four countries (Brazil is the exception), leaders had to break with previous practices to address poverty and inequality -- and they succeeded in doing so. Thus, 'political agency' matters. Some initiatives were more successful than others. Disappointments were mainly the result of poor policy formulation. But despite inevitable ambiguities, all four governments made significant headway (see the fourth point below).
Third, we found it useful to consider four phases: the ORIGINS of poverty programmes, plus their FORMULATION, IMPLEMENTATION and OUTCOMES. In each phase, key participants differed. Senior leaders loom large when origins and formulation are considered, but actors at lower levels dominate implementation processes and strongly influence outcomes.
Fourth, we found parallels and contrasts across the four countries when outcomes are considered. All four governments redistributed wealth and reduced poverty. All four reached many of the POOREST of the poor, a very daunting task. But only Brazil managed to reduce inequality, which is excruciatingly difficult.
Exploitation Route We believe that we (like others) have reconfirmed the utility of small 'n' projects which go into great depth in analyses of a small number of cases. Large 'n' projects which cover many more cases tend to skim the surface of each.
We believe that our research may persuade other scholars to undertake deeper investigations of the themes of our project, and to apply our approach to other less developed countries. (This is already happening in India where our principal investigator gave a series of ten lectures on our project in late 2016. They were video-recorded and distributed to all Indian research centres.)
Scholar who live in or focus on developed, industrialised countries which for some years have pursued austerity, accompanied by cuts in poverty/social programmes, might consider our evidence and ask two questions. Why, if governments in these four major countries have made headway in addressing poverty, can this not be done in more prosperous countries? And if there really no alternative to austerity?
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://www.researchfisch.com
Description This project is at its mid-point, but papers from the project have been fed into policy communities in Brazil, India, China and South Africa by project participants who are active within policy processes in each of the four countries. Papers have also been used by researchers outside the project for parallel analyses.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services