The Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI) was founded by Dr. Michael Samson, Ingrid van Niekerk and Kenneth Mac Quene in 1994 to support the process of South Africa’s socio-economic transformation and development. The Directors were first brought together at a course, organized by the National Institute for Economic Policy and hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC), to train up-and-coming government economists. EPRI’s early research projects had largely macroeconomic underpinnings, and encompassed a wide range of areas including monetary policy, job creation, trade liberalisation and chronic poverty.

At the Presidential Jobs Summit in 1998, COSATU (the Congress of South African trade Unions) negotiated an agreement with the government to investigate a universal social grant for all South Africans – the Basic Income Grant. Subsequently, the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa commissioned EPRI to research the feasibility of a Basic Income Grant. Accepting EPRI’s findings, the Committee’s final report stated that ‘the Basic Income Grant has the potential, more than any other possible social protection intervention, to reduce poverty and promote human development and sustainable livelihoods’. EPRI’s research would later be published in the book A Basic Income Grant for South Africa (2003). In 2003 EPRI wrote The Social and Economic Impact of Social Assistance Grants, a research report commissioned by the Department of Social Development (DSD), the department in charge of the policy, legislation, and budgeting for the Child Support Grant (CGS). The CSG has since been expanded in its coverage and transfer amount, reflecting the government’s recognition of its positive developmental effects.

In November 2006 EPRI hosted the 11th BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network) international conference. The conference had a dual focus: to strengthen the demands for universal provision of social protection and to illuminate the impact of universalism on social and economic development. Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu delivered the BIEN Conference’s closing address, which can be viewed here (courtesy of Oryx Media).

EPRI’s research findings also aided in the successful implementation of a capital gains tax for South Africa. In 2000 the Institute published An Economic Appraisal of Arguments For and Against South Africa’s Proposed Capital Gains Tax Legislation, with research supporting the implementation of the capital gains tax as proposed by South Africa’s national Treasury.

EPRI has provided capacity-building programmes for government departments, Parliamentarians and other policy-makers since 1998. Since 2001 EPRI has integrated economic policy capacity-building initiatives into a long-term, degree-oriented programme, together with leading members of Parliament. Over the past ten years the programme has successfully enhanced capacity for economic policy analysis in South Africa’s public sector. It has provided in-service undergraduate and postgraduate level degree training to many Members of Parliament in South Africa.

Capacity building programmes focused on social transfers evolved into EPRI’s flagship two-week course, Designing and Implementing Social Transfer Programmes, which has now been offered seven times on two continents, training over 300 government officials, policy-makers, NGO representatives and development partners. In 2009 EPRI also began offering national courses, tailored to different country contexts, and has since taught such courses to government officials, NGO staff and programme practitioners from Nepal, Zambia and Tanzania. Building upon the success of the courses, in 2006 EPRI published a policy manual, Designing and Implementing Social Transfer Programmes. The second edition will be released in 2011.

Moving forward, EPRI is building upon its extensive work in South Africa, as well as lessons of international experience, to further study South Africa’s Child Support Grant. EPRI’s largest project to date, it entails the design and implementation of a quasi-experimental evaluation of the grant’s impact on early childhood development, education, health and livelihood outcomes. In addition, EPRI is now doing a feasibility study looking at the possible universalisation of the CSG, as well as looking at linkages between the grant and broader goals of financial inclusion.