1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Combating Poverty and Inequality (Research and Policy Brief)



Poverty reduction is a central feature of the international development agenda. A number of key social development objectives were agreed by world leaders at the Millennium Summit, with the goal of significantly reducing poverty by 2015. What then accounts for the persistence of poverty when concern for its reduction has been high on the policy agenda?

In contrast to the experiences of countries that were successful historically in reducing poverty and inequality, contemporary poverty reduction strategies have increasingly focused on “targeting the poor”. Such approaches often fail to consider key institutional, policy and political dimensions that may be both causes of poverty and inequality, and obstacles to their reduction. They run counter
to the evidence from countries that have successfully reduced poverty over relatively short time periods. UNRISD research shows instead that progress has occurred principally through state-directed strategies which combine economic development objectives with active social policies in ways that are mutually supportive. It also shows how poverty outcomes are shaped by complex interconnections of ideas, institutions, policies and practices in the social, economic and political spheres.

The research highlights the following crucial elements of a sustainable and inclusive development strategy:
  • patterns of growth and structural change (whether in the agricultural, industrial or service sectors) that generate and sustain jobs that are adequately remunerated and accessible to all, regardless of income or class status, gender, ethnicity or location;
  • comprehensive social policies that are grounded in universal rights and that are supportive of structural change, social cohesion and democratic politics; and
  • protection of civic rights, activism and political arrangements that ensure states are responsive to the needs of citizens and the poor have influence in how policies are made.

UNRISD Research and Policy Briefs aim to improve the quality of development dialogue. They situate the Institute’s research within wider social development debates, synthesize its findings and draw out issues for consideration in decision-making processes. They provide this information in a concise format that should be of use to policy makers, scholars, activists, journalists and others.

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  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 4 May 2010
    ISSN: 1811-0142