Misery by numbers: Gauteng's dimensions of poverty
It is not only a function of low income - there are other key issues keeping people mired in grinding deprivation
Gauteng residents are in the grip of grinding levels of poverty, with more than 13% of households facing multiple levels of deprivation.
A study by an urbanisation think tank, the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO), reveals how thousands of those living in the country’s economic hub are not just poor because they have little or no income, but also because they cannot access safe food, health, housing, education and water and sanitation, among other things.
The GCRO was established in 2008 as a partnership between the universities of Johannesburg and Witwatersrand and the Gauteng provincial government.
The Multidimensional Poverty in the Gauteng City-Region report not only looks at the level of income as a measure of poverty, but also people's access, or lack thereof, to basic services.
According to the UN, to be considered multidimensionally poor, people must lack access to at least three or more of the nine indicators of poverty, which are housing, health, drinking water, sanitation, electricity, ownership of communication assets, nutrition, cooking fuel and education.
The GCROs study, which is designed to be used by city officials to plan interventions to help improve access to basic services, paints an alarming picture revealing that the poverty levels in Gauteng are rising.
The authors state that since 2013, Johannesburg, Tshwane, Lesedi, Merafong and Mogale City have all experienced an increase in the proportion of households that are multidimensionally poor.
The report shows that of the province’s 508 wards, only those living in 65 of the wards report that they were not suffering from multiple levels of deprivation.
“The percentages of respondents per ward who were multidimensionally poor, range from 1,1% to 66,7%. Mapping shows many of the poorer wards are located on the edges of the city-region.”
The authors state that for proper interventions to occur it was necessary for them to assess just how “poor people are”.
“While a head count alone suggests that poverty is concentrated on the edges of the city-region, an intensity analysis indicates there are a number of wards in the core [of the province] where poverty is much deeper than that in wards on the outskirts.
“This most likely has to do with high levels of informality in areas such as Alexandra, Diepsloot and Daveyton. Informal housing poses challenges in terms of accessing other amenities such as piped water, electricity and flush toilets.”
The report shows that suburbs particularly in the west, south and north-western parts of the province are prone to poverty because of low economic activity. This in turn limits access better livelihood opportunities and amenities.
“However, even in economically stronger municipalities, such as Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane, there is evidence of multidimensional poverty. Wards in areas such as Alexandra [Johannesburg], Tembisa and Daveyton (Ekurhuleni), and Mamelodi (Tshwane) exhibit high levels of poverty in spite of their relatively central locations.
“In some of these areas the intensity of poverty is higher than on the periphery. The lack of access to jobs limits the ability of a household to access other amenities and opportunities, trapping the household in poverty.”
The report’s co-author, Samy Katumba, said such research was vital to city officials developing strategies to alleviate poverty.
“Usually, researchers just focus on income as a measure of assessing poverty. Poverty is, however, multidimensional. To tackle it one needs to look at various indicators ranging from people’s abilities to access health, education, safe food, water and sanitation.”
He said that using data from quality of life surveys the GCRO conducted in 2013 and 2015, they were able to ascertain the level of poverty in Gauteng.
“The data can provide city officials with information on how poverty is expanding in their municipalities and the extent to which it effects people. It can help shape social service delivery policies.”
He said the data would be used for future studies to help map the growth and movement of poverty in the province.
Mervyn Abrahams, a food safety expert at the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, said research like this was extremely useful, as it urges policymakers to look at broader approaches when dealing with poverty and look beyond just employment as a means alleviating poverty.
“South Africa still suffers from an apartheid-type spatial geography where the poor are often highly concentrated in one area and have great difficulties in escaping the cycles of poverty. This kind of research identifies the geographical areas where poverty is most intense and where poverty strategies need to be targeted.”