This paper shows that policy failure is particularly acute where the concerns of the chronically poor, marginalised and vulnerable are concerned. Fracture points, or areas of weakness and failure, are examined in social policy formation - from agenda setting through to policy formation and its legitimisation. Social policies have been selected as the focus of this study because they are generally weakly addressed by the development and poverty policies of both donors and developing country governments.
Five illustrative case studies in the paper identify the political economy and administrative barriers to policy innovation and implementation in Uganda and India, and from this analysis we draw conclusions of broader application. The selected issues are disability; mental illness; alcohol dependency; inheritance systems that privilege inheritance through the male line, and dispossess women as a result; and the near destitution of older people without support.
The fracture points in the formation of social policies identified in this paper will have differential levels of importance in different countries and also within the same country in relation different issues. However, what is likely to be true across sectors and countries is that for relevant policies to be formed, legitimised and effectively implemented policy discourses need to be shifted so that the needs of the chronically poor and marginalised and vulnerable groups are identified as valid. This may be through a process that identifies needs and then designs policy focusing on these rather than on particular groups of people. So, for example, policy attention could focus on increasing school enrolment and retention and improving the relevance of school curricula for all students. A component of such a set of policies could identify and respond to the access problems and education quality failures experienced by children with physical or cognitive impairments. This problem-focused approach would challenge the sometimes unuseful and undifferentiated characterisation of 'vulnerable groups'.
Throughout this paper, it is emphasised that governments find it difficult to prioritise marginal groups and the chronically poor. They are unlikely to develop and implement policies favouring these groups over larger and more powerful groups, as they would have little to gain and much to lose as a result. To move beyond this impasse requires an attitudinal change which can support processes of social change. These changes in attitudes and socio-cultural behaviour depend on the development of effective lobbies in areas where they are currently absent or weak. It also depends on the creation of fora for debate and the emergence of strong political leadership. Such leadership is unlikely where governments do not have sufficiently grounded experience in tackling the multiple deprivation experienced by the chronically poor or in dealing with complex social problems. It is also unlikely if the international community fails to challenge the current international poverty and development discourses and support the development of pro-poor social and political movements.
Fracture Points in Social Policies for Chronic Poverty Reduction, CPRC Working Paper No. 47, ODI Working Paper No. 242, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), London, UK/Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, ISBN 1-904049-46-X, xii +37 pp.