Jobs and Livelihoods: What should we be focussing on?


Towards the end of March, the International Development Committee [1] report on ‘Jobs and Livelihoods’ was released. This inquiry looked at DFID‘s economic development strategic framework (EDSF) to determine what impacts it could make on increasing jobs.

The report noted the importance of ‘improving livelihoods’ rather than just focussing on formal sector jobs which, (even where there is success in creating these) may not be accessible to many women and men living in poverty. Most encouragingly, the IDC also focussed on the informal economy as this is where

“the majority of the working age population in developing countries earn their living… for example through street hawking in cities or in agricultural work in rural areas. Informal employment comprises more than half of non-agricultural employment in most regions of the developing world: for example 84% in India and 66% in sub Saharan Africa.” (p.43)

A jobs focus is a valid and important one for any donor or government. Jobs are essential for all if us. I need my job for the income it brings me, but also for wider socio-emotional benefits I get: purpose, worth, a sense of contribution.

But a focus on jobs in any economic development strategy needs some nuancing. “What is a job?” and “what type of jobs?” are two questions which I believe must be unpacked – both by DFID in their approach to economic development, but also by other donors and governments who are working on this issue.

What counts as a job or as work?does my work count

Formal employment, or a ‘job’ is most often not an option for many people in developing countries. Yet women and men in poverty work; often as self-employed entrepreneurs in ‘survivalist businesses’, small-scale agriculture or the informal sector. For economic development to be inclusive and truly tackle poverty head on, the work that women and men living in poverty do must be recognised as real and legitimate work. Further, we must then extend “the benefits of work, and the protections that come with work, and the dignity that comes with work as well, into an informal economy” (Mike Bird of WIEGO as quoted in the IDC’s report, p.43). A ‘jobs’ focus cannot exclude this type of work without leaving millions of people’s work out of its agenda.

What type of jobs do we want… or should be supported?

Quality jobs must be prioritised and it cannot be assumed that these will be a natural product of economic growth. It is a concern that the concept of decent work is not mentioned in the EDSF despite the fact that jobs which are not decent can severely undermine poverty impact and human rights gains. [2]

Further jobs which have strong development impact should be particularly prioritised. Whilst some jobs contribute to growth, they are not necessarily the types of jobs with strong development outcomes or which support the livelihoods of the poor. As the 2013 World Development Report highlights

“good jobs for development are those with the highest value for society, taking into account the value they have to the people who hold them, but also the potential spill-overs on others—positive or negative. Jobs that reduce poverty, connect the economy to global markets, or foster trust and civic engagement can do more for development than others.”

An important priority is then to focus on the sectors in which poor or vulnerable women and men work, such as agriculture and (often informal) micro-enterprises.  Evidence shows that poverty reduction is higher when growth is biased towards labour intensive sectors [3]; that it is easier for poor people to benefit from growth, if growth occurs where they are located [4]; that while economic growth is generally important for poverty reduction, the sector mix of growth matters substantially, with growth in small-scale agriculture being especially important [5]; and finally growth in unskilled labour intensive sectors contributes to poverty reduction [6]. Strategies to support these sectors and enable the people who work here to step out of poverty are needed.

The IDC recommended that “DFID make working with those in the informal economy a priority” (p.48). I’d tend to agree and am interested in how DFID and other donors will take up this challenge. Our thinking small work has some recommendations for this.


  1. The IDC monitors the policy, administration and spending of the Department for International Development and its associated public bodies.
  2. the ILO notes “workplaces claim more than 2.3 million deaths per year, out of which 350,000 are fatal accidents and close to 2 million are work-related diseases. In addition, 313 million accidents occur on the job annually; many of these resulting in extended absences from work
  3. Narayan, Saveedra & Tiwari (2013) ”Shared Prosperity: Links to Growth, Inequality and Inequality of Opportunity”. World Bank, Washington DC
  4. Christiaensen & Demery (2007) “Down to Earth: Agriculture and Poverty Reduction in Africa.” Washington DC: World Bank.
  5. Cervantes-Godoy & Dewbre (2010) “Economic importance of agriculture for poverty reduction”. OECD Food and Fisheries Working Paper 23, OECD, Paris. AND World Bank (2008) “World Development Report 2008: Agriculture for Development”. World Bank, Washington DC
  6. Loayza and Raddatz (2006) “The Composition of Growth Matters for Poverty Alleviation”. World Bank, Washington DC

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