learn about our history

About Us


Social Policy Initiative

SPI is a feminist research think- and do- tank. Our vision is a prosperous and fair society, embracing just mitigation and adaptation, where people live active and productive lives, have access to land and assets and a sufficient and dignified lives.



Our research includes policy, budget analysis and Indicators of Access, Enjoyment and Quality for each of the socio-economic rights.



SPI is a member of NEDLAC Community Constituency through FSCC. 

We led CC negotiations which led to the National Minimum Wage and currently lead the Comprehensive Social Security Negotiations.



SPI has an experienced training team and provides training on a range of subjects including Gender Responsive Budgeting, social security policy and Local Economic Development.

Building from the Past.

Since 2006

In 2006, we registered Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute. This was an act of faith, with the wisdom of experience, possibly rather reckless given the reduction in funding to NGOs at the time. However, we were drawn together around SPII’s core mission because we all felt that something very wrong was happening around levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa. But at the same time, we knew that without data we could not begin to understand this thing in and of itself, and without understanding the nature of the problem, we could not contribute to finding solutions. At this stage, South Africa did not have any measurement of poverty like the three national poverty lines we have now, which to an extent were a response to SPII’s early work.


Our very first project was to explore how poverty could be described in a way that looked for a far deeper level of knowledge that the superficial money-metric poverty lines that were then being considered by Statistics South Africa. That first project developed the values that subsequently became our highly successful Decent Standard of Living project. That first project announced our presence in the policy world of poverty and inequality, and our commitment to working inclusively with a variety of partners who did not ordinarily work together. Our reference team was made up of organized labour, civil society and academia, as well as Social Development, StatsSA National Treasury and the Presidency.

This inclusive way of working dovetails with our years of working with social partners in NEDLAC as part of the Community Constituency.

In the next decade of working as SPII we included some really rich community work on LED and participatory action research into the reality of human rights in communities that were spatially very peripheral to the economic and social core of urban Johannesburg. We set up the SADC Basic Income Grant campaign, linking financing of the regional cash grant to the undertaxed profits of the extractive industries in our region. The other great achievement in this period was the development of our Measurement of Progressive Realisation of Socio-Economic Rights (SER) methodology and the incredible work in development baseline studies of each line department’s policies and budget allocations to enable the tracking of progressive realisation. This led us to our budget advocacy which led to our contribution in the establishment of the Budget Justice Coalition which continues to do great work.

We also began to provide more frequent analysis in the general media of the conditions of poverty, inequality and unemployment, and around our constant call for a decent universal basic income grant.

Fastforwarding to the last two years since the outbreak of Covid-19, SPII has devoted most of our research time between social security policy and the multidimensional poverty project of the Decent Standard of Living. We have registered two stand alone websites – www.dslnow.net and www.basicincomegrantsouthafrica.co.za with key partners and published some outstanding publications, most recently the three papers on a BIG written by SPII staff and Duma Gqubule, a virtual SPII research associate. We have also spent time working alongside community partners, even virtually throughout Covid- 19, to ensure that the nexus between our analysis of data and our recommendations were rooted in the core conditions of the poor.

In immersing our resources in understanding the dynamics driving unemployment in South Africa, the interplay with poverty and inequality and in trying to understand what unique contribution we as a very small but passionate feminist think tank can make, the answer always came back to income guarantees or income replacement or income redistribution through social security policy. Instead of seeing social security as a constant add-on – gender and social security, unemployment and social security, working age adults and social security, just transitions and social security, we have turned that on its head. We start from looking at the possibilities that would flow in a society where decent levels of income are a reality for all, and then seek to build policy alternatives with regard to job creation, economic activity, gendered equality, access to land, inclusive democratic participation, around that. We are creating new partnerships around the gendered dynamics of care , around social security and labour market activation policies, understanding the multiplier of social spending and how all of these tie in to the money, through Gender Responsive Budget training. And we look forward to how universal basic income can provide a positive guarantee for people whose lives will change forever through the climate change mitigation adaptations that must happen, particularly the coal mines and other energy- based industries.

And to signal or mark this focal shift through a change in name and branding, we are transitioning from Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute to the Social Policy Initiative.

And we are also expanding the scope of our work. This year we have started to operationalize our commitment to work internationally. Our primary place of work will be the African continent, but also through the family of the UN including our long -standing partner UNICEF, and with our new partner the ILO and the UN CESCR.

We are proud to announce our newly acquired Observer Status at the African Commission for People and Human Rights,

Our five projects this year are:

  1. Decent Standard of Living – we undertake an income survey to provide the updated data on how many people in South Africa can afford a Decent Standard of Life.
  2. Measuring the Progressive Realisation of Social Security in South Africa. We are revisiting our previous two studies and updated the Indicators of Enjoyment with the ILO’s international team to create dynamic dashboards for ease of use.
  3. International innovation in social security and labour market activation policies in a post-Covid world. We are tracking case studies for learnings in South Africa from different regions in the world.
  4. The Mutliplier Project. We take further our 2021 Multiplier research to ask how much each rand really buys if used intentionally.
  5. Gender Responsive Budget Training. We pilot our Gender Responsive Budget training in SADC.

Our model of being a not for profit research think tank provides us with the freedom to explore our own research questions within a human rights and social justice framing, but this freedom does come at a price, and that is the need to constantly raise resources to attract and retain researchers of quality. This year we are seeking to forge multi-year partnerships with funders that see our work as an investment in a fair, stable and prosperous South Africa where the potential of all is unleashed, located in a real empathy for the humanity of all.