Capability and well-being: social protection through the lens of Buen Vivir (Living Well) in Latin America
Emmanuel Asomba, a consultant working on poverty reduction, human development and systematic reviews of development polices and programmes.
Well-being economics can provide a conceptual foundation for freedom of choice and quality of life to revamp such neo-classical yardsticks as utility, income and commodities. For governments in Latin-America, effective measures and mechanisms require an integration of a life-satisfaction concept to understand the well-being of citizens. In many aspects of life, a person’s perception of well-being is subjective, thereby broadening the differences across socio-economic and demographic groups.
Poverty reduction should be, for the most part, a process of change whereby people of various communities are able to operate freely in their wider societies. Hence poverty reduction strategies should focus on the concept of human development. For this to happen there has to be a radical shift allowing institutions to improve the political, socio-cultural, economic, and protective capabilities of the poor (Sepulveda and Nyst; JICA; Norton et al). The existing disadvantageous conditions of the poor necessitate the establishment of common properties to be used as a challenge to the vicious progression of poverty. These properties must be present in the performance, and evident in the results of, development policy (see, for example, OECD, or Deolalikar et al.)
Even though low growth has been projected for most Latin-American countries, for policy-makers, a basis for sustainable development is to blend standard frameworks, enhancing equity and efficiency, to support income redistribution and streamline investments in social protection schemes. However, to move forward with these transformational changes, and highlight the debate on the harmonisation of the capability approach, policies and institutions have to be thorough at each level of empowerment to ensure that the social status of the marginalised is truly enriched. Within this context, as suggested by some evidence, (International Poverty Centre; Philip and Rayhan), a reasonable component of policy-making is to better reflect on the factors and social influences that can fulfill basic human needs, thus improving the economic welfare of vulnerable groups.
To combat limitations on systems of implementation, evaluations of poverty reduction programmes have to identify plausible underlying variations, i.e., what are the correlations in the behaviours that people adopt in the attempt to develop their well-being over the long-term (according to the individual’s definition of well-being). The past few years have allowed development practitioners to come up with a variety of supply-side interventions to tackle poverty reduction. However, some persistent gaps highlight the need for improved understanding of individual notions in subjective well-being. An example of this is the nature of the direct connections framing the distribution of government cash transfers within households. To move the debate forward and respond adequately to changes in behaviour of programme beneficiaries, there is a need to capture the series of outcomes whereby poverty and vulnerability manifest themselves. The goal is to form points of entry for poverty reduction, expanding the scope of assessment on such values as substantive freedoms, self-respect, and the ability to live to old age.
For Mercado and Leiton-Quiroga, development should go outside of old-fashioned research questions and take into account the fact that poverty is a dynamic phenomenon. In the long run, poverty reduction initiatives have to address the structural environments (attention to people rather than economies) that can either encourage or hinder the poor from acquiring capability and assets. Therefore, whether in terms of protection of rights, or the integration of community livelihood programs, public policy and institutions should move beyond income-focused universals and instead frame national development objectives to evolve around local context-specific values. The idea is to consider how individual notions of well-being come into play and to use this information to overhaul power dynamics and target social risk so as to sustain indicators of good living (work satisfaction, greater longevity, lower rates of infant mortality, or mitigation of the impacts of natural disasters).
The philosophical concept of “Buen Vivir” (transformative and human-centered goals) has helped to widen social justice and well-being in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica in the creation of a fiscal space to serve a transformative social protection framework. By targeting poor communities and various indigenous groups, based on the satisfaction of human needs and sustainable production, this paradigm juxtaposes meaningful livelihoods and human potentialities, and sees communities as active contributors to core life values.
In Costa Rica over the past fifteen years, the housing subsidy scheme known as Bono de Vivienda (Family Housing Voucher) has managed to balance fiscal discipline and effectiveness of expenditure, refining perceptions of well-being (access to adequate housing and the institutionalisation of consciousness of choice for poor families), supported by robust social marketing campaigns. A significant piece of this puzzle is the centralisation of housing policy which has enabled greater reforms in housing financing. It has capped credit portfolios, consolidated small-scale finance, and removed distortions like fixed rates. The government emphasis on building new homes has reduced the housing deficit so that from 1995 to 2009, 14% of households were able to have access to decent housing. The impact of this subsidy program, especially for families with a monthly income of less than US$217.20 indicates that between 2001-2005, 41.5% of Costa-Rican households were able to access privately produced housing, generating, strong community mobilisation on housing and neighbourhood development.
In the most basic sense, improvement in the quality of life of citizens rests on a mix of functions. The Buen Vivir approach is about the creation of tangible measures enabling individuals or communities to access opportunities to bring about valued outcomes. By disconnecting the causes of poverty from poor people, this paradigm addresses “effectiveness” through the implementation of a long-term theory of change. Such notions as beings and doings (“functionings”) denote people’s part as members of society, reinforcing empowerment through the expansion of their freedoms.