1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics


From Chapter 6 – Universal Provision of Social Services

This chapter argues that a universal approach to the provision of social services is essential to realizing their full potential as a component of transformative social policy. Achieving broad-based and inclusive coverage can contribute not only to improved well-being, but also to enhanced productivity and earnings.

In addition, it can reduce inequalities across income, class, gender, ethnicity and location. The challenge of extending effective provision to populations often marginalized or excluded as a result of these inequalities lies at the heart of efforts to reduce poverty and reach the MDG targets. As argued throughout this report, narrowly targeted interventions may make inroads into particular aspects of poverty among specific population groups. However, without broad-based coverage that aims to redress inequalities and generate solidarity around development goals, these gains may not be sustainable.

The chapter is organized as follows
  • Section 1 of the chapter discusses the case for a universal approach to the provision of social services, how this can be achieved and the barriers to extension.
  • Section 2 provides an overview of trends in service provision in developing countries.
  • Section 3 elaborates on these points with a discussion of the effects of commercialization on provision and outcomes.
  • Section 4 analyses patterns of social service provision in a select number of countries classified as leaning towards universalism, leaning towards universalism in the context of dualistic economies, and fragmented and exclusionary systems.
  • Section 5 draws conclusions that have implications for policy makers.

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