Livelihoods (un)employment and social safety nets: reflections from recent studies in KwaZulu-Natal

Livelihoods (un)employment and social safety nets: reflections from recent studies in KwaZulu-Natal

Deconstruction of employment survey methods in South Africa

This paper considers some methodological and substantive issues in the fields of livelihoods, unemployment and social safety nets in South Africa. This report focuses on the extent to which work and employment are reported in different types of surveys. Using information from two recent studies in KwaZulu-Natal the author considers the different kinds of information that different methodologies yield.

The author proposes this is necessary in order to:

  • determine how quantitative and qualitative methods reflect on each other and how they can be used to improve each other
  • to emphasise the importance of different kinds of economic activity
  • to understand what is happening with people who work but who do not appear in official figures
  • to support people who are being missed at present by government programmes to support small and medium enterprises

The author examines how different surveys have recorded employment patterns, and deconstructs the methodologies. Findings and recommendations for future surveys included:

  • the need to interview working people directly
  • the need to move away from the simple dichotomy of ‘formal work’ and ‘informal work’, and to use a more complex definition of status of work as a key variable
  • the need to recognize that that knowledgeable household respondents are less likely to be able to report reliably on job characteristics of household members who are informally employed
  • the need to reformulate questions about past employment; for instance, questioning whether a respondent has worked in the last several months may miss key seasonal employment patterns
  • the need to pay attention to variations in social insurance policies; while there were many instances of self-employed people and waged workers having multiple death and funeral policies, but there were no instances of work related insurance at all
  • the need to better understand the phenomenon of migrant workers
  • the need to better understanding poverty
  • the need for better exchange of information with local fieldworkers

The article is followed by a lengthy discussion and series of related analytical questions.

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