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Publication Details

Reference
Meth, Charles (2006) What was the poverty headcount in 2004? A critique of the latest offering from van der Berg et al. Centre for Civil Society  : 1-50.

Summary
In the field of political economy in South Africa, there are not many more sensitive subjects than that of the extent to which government policies aimed at alleviating poverty have succeeded. There is broad agreement among academics that income poverty rose in the period 1995-2000. Government counters this with the claim that the finding fails to take account of the ‘social wage’ (social spending).

To date, nobody has succeeded in demonstrating that the ‘social wage’ offset increases in income poverty prior to 2001.2 Because of the absence of authoritative data, what has happened in the years after 2000-2001 is less clear. This has added to the contentiousness of the competing claims that are made. Possibly mindful of this, Lesetja Kganyago, Director General of the National Treasury, is reported recently as proclaiming that:

“At this moment, there is just hot air and noise about whether we are making progress in reducing poverty.” (Business Report, Monday, 28
November 2005)3


It would be surprising, however, if he were not tempted to exclude from this generalisation, the most recent findings on the matter by van der Berg et al (2005). They report a significant fall in poverty headcounts and poverty gaps in the period 2000-2004. If true, their results would silence critics of government’s anti-poverty policy, critics who, of late, have become increasingly vociferous. Unfortunately for the poor, it seems unlikely that the optimistic picture painted by van der Berg and his colleagues is correct.

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