Year: 2018

Working paper number:416

Author: Jeremy Seekings



Conflict over redistribution through the welfare state is likely to be framed by the perceived legitimacy of the claims made on it. A distinction between deserving and undeserving people is not only fundamental to the design of most welfare states but also underlies the decisions people make over whether or not they themselves should assist directly other people, including kin. People may favour people they know over strangers, kin over non-kin, or some kin over other kin. This paper examines how young South Africans distinguish between deserving and undeserving claimants on both the state and kin. Data from survey experiments suggests that there is a clear and generally intuitive hierarchy of desert with respect to public welfare. Deservingness with respect to different categories of kin – i.e. the ‘radius’ of responsibility for kin – varies less markedly, but with some variation between racial or cultural groups. Deservingness with respect to both public and private support is affected dramatically by the attitude and reciprocity of the claimant, with important exceptions. It is widely perceived that people should support their mothers, unconditionally, but support for most other kin (including even close kin) is generally conditional on their attitudes and behavior. Public and private support appear to be complements not substitutes for each other, in that people who believe that the state should support people in need are also more likely to believe that kin should do so also.

Publication file: WP 416 Seekings.pdf