| Daughters of Sysiphus |
|Overview of findings and recommendations|
There was no attempt within the survey to determine household income levels because of the notorious methodological difficulties that have arisen in previous studies seeking this information. Instead, efforts were concentrated on determining patterns of household expenditure and on identifying the expenditure priorities that different households demonstrated.
Expenditure on shelter
Female-headed households seem to spend more on shelter than other households. This may well be a reflection of the fact that these households are more likely to be renting houses and less likely to be living in one they have already paid for, living free or squatting. In this sense their shelter expenditure is less likely to constitute a long-term investment than shelter expenditure by other kinds of household. However, overall expenditure on shelter by all households was found to be relatively low with 50 per cent spending nothing at all and another 25 per cent paying less than $J25.00 per week. Given that the strategies proposed by the Government in the Shelter Strategy assume expenditure of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent of income on shelter and that average household income is approximately $J350 per week, this has fairly serious implications for plans that rely on significant levels of household investment in shelter, especially when it is realised that 80 per cent of the households interviewed in this study had total expenditures of less than $J350 per week.
Expenditure on food
Food was the most important item of expenditure for all types of household surveyed and generally accounted for at least 50 per cent of total expenditure. However female heads of household proved twice as likely as other heads of household to report sending children to bed hungry in the last month, and the case studies revealed an ongoing anxiety by female heads of household about their ability to feed their children adequately. Money spent on shelter is, by definition, not available to spend on food, and the choice between the two is a critical one for low-income households for whom day-to-day survival is a constant challenge.
A disturbing finding showed that less than 20 per cent of all the households surveyed had benefited from the food stamp programme despite the fact that most households should have been eligible for it. Female-headed households proved less likely than joint-headed households to have benefited from this subsidy. The relationship between expenditure on food and expenditure on shelter requires further study as do the relative benefits of shelter and food subsidies (see Fass, 1987).
Female-headed households proved less likely to have invested in assets such as televisions, refrigerators, radios, dining sets and so on than other households. Not only does this reflect a lower standard of living for these households but also a lower capacity to provide collateral for loans from institutions such as credit unions which are being encouraged to participate far more actively in low-income shelter financing under the new shelter strategy.
Windfall expenditure choice
All households were asked to say how they would spend windfall money if they received it. Their replies revealed significant differences in the manner that different types of household heads rated investment priorities. Female heads of household were the least likely to make a choice that related to shelter expenditure and were the most likely to make a choice related to investment in informal vending activities that they felt offered them the opportunity to generate higher levels of income. Fully 71 per cent of female heads opted for spending the money on an income-generating option compared with 58 per cent of male heads and 53 per cent of joint heads.
1. Existing levels of expenditure on shelter should be carefully determined before public sector plans based on shelter investment by low-income households are made.
2. The relative benefits of food and shelter subsidies should be carefully weighed in the designing of interventions seeking to benefit low-income households in general and female-headed households in particular. Further research should be carried out on this question.
3. The investment priorities of low-income households should be researched prior to any assumptions being made by planners concerning the relative merit of direct investment in shelter by these households. For the poorest households improvement in income status has a higher priority than improvement in shelter status. Indeed improvement in income status is usually seen as the only way in which shelter can be upgraded in the long term. These priorities are particularly characteristic of female-headed households and should be incorporated into strategies aimed at upgrading low-income shelter.
4. Given that female heads of household in particular tend to prioritize expenditure on income-generating activities over expenditure on shelter, it might appear logical to exclude such households from programmes focusing on direct shelter investment. However, the fact that the shelter situation of many female heads of household (particularly those that are renters) contributes directly to their poverty suggests that such a move would make it even more difficult for these households to escape the poverty trap in which they find themselves. Solutions that integrate income generation and shelter support are likely to be the solutions that will have the most positive impact and should receive much greater attention from both the public and voluntary sectors.