Lessons Without Borders?

20 October 1999
Public event

Speakers:

Peter Kenway, Director, New Policy Institute.

Simon Maxwell, Director, Overseas Development Institute.

Description

As an introduction, the objective of this series was defined as a way of seeking common ground across the North - South boundary.

There would be a particular focus on poverty, building on UK initiatives on the subject, including the recently published first Annual Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK, as well as international initiatives, like the Copenhagen Plus Five meeting to be held in 2000, and the publication of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2000/1 on poverty. He described earlier work in this territory, including USAID’s programme on ‘Lessons Without Borders’ (from which the title of the series had been borrowed), and his own previous work at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, with Arjan de Haan, examining (a) comparisons, (b) convergence, and (c) connections between developed and developing countries.

  1. Simon Maxwell (ODI) and Peter Kenway (NPI) jointly introduced a meeting series organised by the two institutes, with the title ‘Lessons Without Borders: Conversations Across The Boundary Between Developed and Developing Countries’.
  2. Introducing the discussion, Simon Maxwell defined the objective of the series as being to seek common ground across the North-South boundary. There would be a particular focus on poverty, building on UK initiatives on the subject, including the recently published first Annual Report on Poverty and Social Exclusion in the UK, as well as international initiatives, like the Copenhagen Plus Five meeting to be held in 2000, and the publication of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2000/1 on poverty. He described earlier work in this territory, including USAID’s programme on ‘Lessons Without Borders’ (from which the title of the series had been borrowed), and his own previous work at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, with Arjan de Haan, examining (a) comparisons, (b) convergence, and (c) connections between developed and developing countries.
  3. Peter Kenway then made the first substantive contribution. He identified six questions for discussion: (i) what is the vision of where we are trying to go?; (ii) are human development and social exclusion talking the same language?; (iii) how can the cycle of poverty and social exclusion be broken?; (iv) how can targeting help?; (v) who has to change?; and (vi) who does the anti-poverty strategy belong to?
  4. Peter Kenway made a series of points under these headings, speaking mainly from a UK perspective. He described the vision as being one of reducing inequality of opportunity, coupled with the abolition of child poverty in 20 years. From the indicators identified by government to measure its progress, it could be inferred that the vision also involved reducing inequality of outcome, especially in income, employment and education. The concept of poverty being used was a broad one, low income plus lack of access to services, plus lack of opportunity to improve. The implied model was then one of multi-dimensional poverty, including income, health, housing, education and work chances. He suggested that poverty was represented in UK thinking as the result of a system malfunction, and that this malfunction was located within the institutions of the old welfare state.
  5. How then could the cycle of deprivation be broken? Peter Kenway suggested that the main thrust of UK policy was directed at work, supported by tax incentives (including the new working family tax credit) and with security provided for those who could not work, for example through a minimum income guarantee for pensioners. This was clearly a targeted strategy, though it was notable that the recent UK publication did not specify quantitative goals and objectives, or targets. Nevertheless, a wealth of statistical material had been provided and it was clear in which direction movement had to be for success to be achieved.
  6. Peter Kenway described the UK poverty strategy as seeing the problem largely in the public sector, with problems lying in such arenas as the education system, the social security system and so on. The private sector did not feature prominently, nor was much responsibility assigned to groups like employers. This was consistent with another feature he felt could be ascribed to UK policy, namely the lack of public participation. The UK anti-poverty strategy was confident, coherent, and conceived as a programme of modernisation. However, not enough had been done to engage local people and communities.
  7. Responding to this presentation, Simon Maxwell made five main points. First, the human development discourse in the South was very similar to the social exclusion discourse in the North. Both stressed a multi-dimensional perspective on poverty, including non-monetary aspects. Second, however, the social exclusion paradigm went further in offering a causal model, focusing particularly on the process of social exclusion in the arenas of rights, resources, and relationships. This was important, because policy needed to be based on an analysis of causes, rather than a description of outcomes. Thirdly, the current development debate appeared to give much greater importance to notions of participation and empowerment than seemed to be the case in the UK debate. There had been a great deal of work on participatory poverty assessment (including the current World Bank Programme on the Voices of the Poor). The World Bank World Development Report on poverty for 2000/1, the first major statement on poverty for a decade, would have empowerment as the first of its three legs, along with opportunity and security. Fourth, in this connection, income distribution had risen to the top of the development agenda. ODI work had shown that the international targets for poverty reduction would not be reached without substantial reductions in income inequality. There was, of course, a long standing debate on this topic in development circles, with contributions on redistribution before and after growth, immiserising growth, unequalising growth etc. GINI coefficients in developing countries were high, particularly in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, it was notable that the UK poverty report did not stress targets. The international development targets had been a powerful motor in the development debate. Targets had many positive features, but could sometimes drive policy in unhelpful ways: they needed to be used intelligently.
  8. These two presentations sparked a discussion on three main issues:
  • Inequality was recognised as an important topic, both in the North and the South. In the South it was recognised that difficult questions needed to be addressed about the trade-off between growth and reductions in inequality. Some cases were cited where growth had occurred with little reduction in inequality, others where growth and lower inequality had coincided. The point was also made that inequality was not just an issue with regard to growth. Research by Richard Wilkinson had shown that lower inequality in the North was associated with lower mortality rates.
  • There was a discussion about empowerment. Participants felt that there was real potential for transfer from South to North on participation methods as well as on the general issue of empowerment in designing and implementing public policy.
  • Finally, on targets it was agreed that there was scope for fruitful exchange of the experience of targets in the two different environments.
The conclusion of the meeting was that a valuable discussion had been initiated: there was clearly scope for an exchange that would be intellectually fruitful and programmatically useful to both sides.