Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) is an independent, not-for-profit based in Johannesburg, South Africa, established in 2006. SPII is rooted in the values of the South African constitution. The organisation believes that poverty undermines democracy and inhabits the development of all aspects of society as a whole.
SPII was established in response to the recognition by the founder trustees of SPII that policy making and policy discourse in South Africa. It had begun to tend towards more confrontational engagements, often ideologically and politically loaded, and away from the former openness and dialogue that had characterised its emerging nation. Substantive discussion about policy choices and options was also becoming increasingly rare as a result of high levels of distrust among and between government, academia and civil society stakeholders.
SPII is an independent research think tank which focuses on generating new knowledge, information and analysis in the field of poverty and inequality studies. Through facilitating collaborative partnerships with and between institutions of democracy academia and civil society organisations, the organisation will be able to develop innovative and promoting sustainable development. It will work to support the development of a tradition of effective public participation in policy making and implementation.
The Vision will be realised through:
- Bringing together policy makers, analysts and implementers from government, academia and civil society formations, as well as international role players / academics / researchers and activists;
- Sharing information about poverty and inequality research and policy processes in order to stimulate new areas of collaboration among stakeholders;
- Constantly identifying further areas of research and / or gaps in current knowledge and to commission such research which will contribute to public knowledge and innovation;
- Disseminating information and research produced by the Institute to assist in policy development processes and campaigns;
- Participating in building regional collaboration and disseminating innovative practices focused on fighting poverty and inequality in the Southern African region.
The main objectives of SPII’s founding trustees was to create a safe space within which policy analysts and activist in civil society, researchers, intellectuals and government policy-makers could come together to interrogate the development and implementation of effective evidence-based anti-poverty policies necessary to address the growing level of economic, social and political exclusion and inequalities in South Africa, as well as the Southern Africa region more broadly.
SPII is not just another research and policy institute, it puts emphasis on both content (knowledge) and process (inclusive participation). In addition, SPII’s approach relies on identifying and exploring not only areas of agreement between policy actors, but also areas of dissent. Unspoken assumptions and ideological values will ultimately affect the development of appropriate policies. SPII’s methodology acknowledges this and as a result, SPII provides space for policy actors to challenge their own position and those of their peers and to distinguish between occasion that require intellectual engagement and those that are determined through ideological engagement.
Cutting across all of SPII’s research work is the commitment to a strengthening of public participation in the policy and political arena as an essential condition precedent for South Africa’s constitutionally guaranteed participative democracy. The Constitution of the Republic is the touchstone of the Institute, in particular the Bill of Rights. Supporting people’s active involvement in decision-making processes also emphasizes the agency of individuals and communities, rather than seeing people as passive recipients of the largesse of state or charity.
SPII’s board and staff collectively represent an impressive collection of skills, knowledge and most importantly, experience drawn from a variety of progressive structures and organisations both pre -and post -transition. This social capital provides SPII with access to an extensive network of people both locally, regionally and internationally that we are able to draw on and that qualitatively add to our work.
SPII’s current activities:
SPII’s work falls into three main programmes, namely Socio-Economic Rights, the Basic Needs Basket and Food Price Monitoring, and Social Dialogue Programmes.
1. Socio-Economic Rights (SER) Programme
The socio-economic rights contained in the Constitution of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996) are central to the realisation of a transformed country and a healed nation.
At SPII, they have three projects that currently fall under the SER programme. These are:
- Monitoring the Progressive realisation of Socio-Economic Rights;
- Campaign for a SADC- Basic Income Grant;
- Stimulating Local Economic Development amongst Social Grant Recipients.
Project one: Monitoring the Progressive realisation of Socio-Economic Rights
This project has been running since 2010 and is currently in its second phase. The aim of this project is to develop a tool that will monitor the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights in South Africa.
The indicators for each right, enshrined in the Constitution, will look at both access and enjoyment of rights in order to provide a more holistic picture of the status of socio-economic rights realisation in the country.
Project two: Campaign for a SADC- Basic Income Grant
Together with a network of partners, SPII is spearheading a study to develop and innovative and coherent case for the introduction of a Southern African Development Community (SADC) wide cash transfer (Basic Income Grants), funded by a tax on the extractive activities which would operate as a regional equivalent of a sovereign wealth fund. The first phase of the entailed conducting a scoping exercise of current research that consider the value of the extractive activities, current levels of tax and other concessions paid as well as possible funding and distribution mechanisms.
Project three: Stimulating Local Economic Development
In the last eighteen months, SPII undertook primary and secondary research for the ‘Linking cash transfers to local economic development (LED): Developing a pilot project’ project. The research sought to examine the dynamics between social assistance and LED. In the absence of formal employment, the poor and marginalised in South Africa are reliant on the informal sector and social grants for survival.
2. Primary Research into Basic Needs
While national statistics are useful for providing data on general trends of poverty and inequality, SPII identified a gap in advancing the understanding of how real people live, their hopes and aspirations, their dreams and their frustrations, in having to cope with poverty and destitution on a daily basis.
SPII has two projects that fall under Basic Needs. These are:
- Evaton Household Expenditure Survey;
- Food Price Monitoring Survey and the Basic Needs Basket.
Project one: Evaton Household Expenditure Survey
With assistance of Statistics South Africa, SPII undertook a yearlong survey of 144 households in a township called Evaton, South of Gauteng. The survey included a formal questionnaire about people’s families and activities, their educational experiences and employment histories, and sources of income and expenditure.
Project two: Food Price Monitoring Survey and the Basic Needs Basket
Between November 2011 and June 2012, SPII conducted a Food Price Monitoring survey which tracked price changes of basic food items selected from the household expenditure survey conducted in Evaton, during the same period. The monthly analysis of the food price monitoring survey was published in the bi-monthly SPII Talk Newsletter and the findings were also presented at the National Economic Development and Labour Council in the Public and Monetary Policy Chamber
Challenges and opportunities:
- The current financial situation is stable but SPII is still aware that the possibility of withdrawal from donor high but must be alleviated, this can be done through developing sustainable plans;
- SPII is involved establishing working groups of similar organisations that will promote continued funding and support for human right works in South Africa;
- Commissioned work around both research and training has increased and this trend seems likely to continue.
3.Social Dialogue on Poverty and Inequality
SPII hosts a number of public seminars and engages in social dialogue through the Community Constituency at NEDLAC.
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