Understanding and managing urbanisation in developing countries is one
of the major global policy challenges: rapidly growing towns and cities
are increasingly recognised as powerhouses of economic development,
employment generation and as having the potential to be great drivers of
improvements in human wellbeing. At the same time they can also be the
sites of extreme impoverishment, substandard housing, dominated by
informal employment, insecure and hazardous working conditions,
vulnerability, environmental degradation and unrest.
While there is strong evidence suggesting that economic, socio-political
and governance conditions relating to informal living and work
significantly impact on development outcomes, relatively little is known
about the ways that informal workers actually make their urban lives,
the priorities they have, the trade-offs they have to make in their
efforts to achieve wellbeing, and the barriers they face in trying to
escape poverty. The ways in which informal settlements divergently
produce wellbeing outcomes is also likely to depend on a range of
institutional conditions, relating to labour markets and to
socio-economic and physical-spatial features of these settlements. This
study accordingly addressed the following three research questions:
- What patterns and gradations of wellbeing outcomes (success and
failure) do we observe for informal workers in informal settlements in
different kinds of urbanising towns and cities in Bangladesh and
- What kinds of institutional conditions of informal settlements explain
the patterns of wellbeing failure and success outcomes that we observe
and support informal workers to escape poverty or entrap them in it?
- What do these insights into wellbeing outcomes and processes tell us
about which methods and instruments should be employed in anti-poverty
policy for informal workers in urbanising contexts?
It concluded that anti-poverty policy, particularly in a context of weak
urban governance, should be sensitive to the multidimensional nature of
wellbeing, comprising material as well as relational and subjective
aspects. The tools and methods presented in this study offer an approach
that is sensitive to local indicators of wellbeing, while situating this
in a globally applicable wellbeing framework. They allow anti-poverty
policy to be responsive to the highly gendered nature of informal work
and its wellbeing outcomes. More so, they enable anti-poverty policy to
recognise that informal work is rarely only about income, as other
aspects such as regularity (e.g. in contract-based employment) and
autonomy (for self-employed informal workers) and social protection may
be traded off against one another.
Policy interventions can have positive as well as negative effects on
these dimensions, sometimes simultaneously in opposite directions (for
instance, where itinerant traders are located to urban market stalls).
The wellbeing needs and priorities of urban informal workers can be
highly context-specific, and it is thus imperative that policymakers
recognise this and make anti-poverty policy sufficiently nimble and
agile to respond to local needs.
Gupte, J.; Te Lintelo, D. Informal Work and Wellbeing in Urban South Asia: Who Succeeds, Who Fails and Under What Conditions? Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK (2015) 216 pp.
Informal Work and Wellbeing in Urban South Asia: Who Succeeds, Who Fails and Under What Conditions?