South Africa

The University of Oxford’s Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy has undertaken research into people’s views about what is necessary for an acceptable standard of living in present day South Africa and the extent to which those items are possessed. This was the first time the consensual approach based on socially perceived necessities had been carried out in a society that has such high levels of inequality as South Africa. The CASASP study, conducted in 2006, found that, in spite of the many differences that exist between different social, racial and economic groups in South Africa, a surprisingly common view exists about what is required in order to have an acceptable standard of living:

The extent of agreement between different groups about the necessities in life was very striking: of the top 26 items defined as essential by the total population, 25 of these were defined as essential by the majority of women, men, older and young people, and people in the four main population groups. (Working Paper 10: Socially Perceived Necessities in South Africa: Patterns of Possession (2011) Gemma Wright.)

The study was of particular significance for, by direct contrast to the UK and other countries where possession of socially perceived necessities has been examined, a number of the necessities were lacked by a majority of the population. While 28 of the 36 socially perceived necessities were possessed by the majority of the population (i.e. by 50 per cent or more of respondents), 8 of the 36 socially perceived necessities were not possessed by the majority of the population.

Overall, 40 of the 50 items in the module were possessed by a smaller percentage of people than defined them as ‘essential’, i.e. for 80% of the items in the module, fewer people possessed them than regarded them as ‘essential’, on average. Looking just at the socially perceived necessities, 28 of the 36 items were possessed by a smaller percentage of people than defined each one as essential, i.e. for 78% of the socially perceived necessities, fewer people possessed them than regarded them as ‘essential’ on average. This demonstrates a considerable discrepancy between the standard of living which people regard as acceptable and the standard of living that is currently experienced by many people in South Africa. (Working Paper 9: Socially Perceived Necessities in South Africa: Comparing the Views of Sub-groups of the Population (2011) Gemma Wright.)

These findings are of considerable significance for it highlights a difference between the consensual socially perceived approach to defining poverty and a relative approach based on norms. In the socially perceived approach it is possible for society to aspire to minimum standards above the norm for that society. Gemma Wright concludes:

Though an acceptable standard of living – as defined by the population at large – is not enjoyed by many people in the population, there is a remarkable level of agreement between groups about what that standard of living comprises. In a country that is still recovering from the legacies of colonialism and apartheid this is an important and quite unexpected finding. It provides us with an impression of where people are setting their sights (or threshold of adequacy) in relation to an acceptable standard of living. (Working Paper 9: Socially Perceived Necessities in South Africa: Comparing the Views of Sub-groups of the Population (2011) Gemma Wright.)

A presentation on poverty measurement in South Africa was made by David McLennan, the Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy (CASASP), University of Oxford, at the Second Peter Townsend Memorial Conference, Measuring Poverty: The State of the Art, in 2011.

See also:
Further details of this research:
Working Paper 9: Socially Perceived Necessities in South Africa: Comparing the Views of Sub-groups of the Population (2011) Gemma Wright
Working Paper 10: Socially Perceived Necessities in South Africa: Patterns of Possession (2011) Gemma Wright

Details of research on child poverty using the socially perceived necessities:
Children’s Views of an Acceptable Standard of Living for Children in South Africa (2009) Helen Barnes, Department of Social Development
Child Poverty in South Africa: A Socially Perceived Necessities Approach (2009) Helen Barnes, Department of Social Development
Defining child poverty in South Africa using the socially-perceived necessities approach (2009), Helen Barnes and Gemma Wright

The South African Social Policy Research Institute has full details of other research projects on poverty, deprivation and social exclusion in South Africa using the socially-percieved necessities approach.