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Tailored strategies and initiatives based on evidence can be designed to strengthen the population’s financial literacy, taking into account individual needs and abilities, as well as the maturity of financial markets. In particular, policies need to target vulnerable groups of the population, such as women, as detailed in the OECD/INFE Policy Guidance (on addressing women and girls’ needs for financial education and awareness) and should start early in individuals’ lives and preferably in schools to reach out to the population at large (OECD 2014b and OECD 2013q).
Developing countries and emerging market economies face their own specific challenges to tackle financial exclusion. Typically, bank branches are in towns, but many of the poor live in rural areas.
Poorer workers often work in the informal sector and do not qualify for credit. They also often live in informal settlements and do not have land titles that would allow them to use this capital as collateral against which to apply for a bank loan. The challenge is to make banks more competitive and credit allocation more equitable. In many countries, regulations discourage competition among banks and between banks and other financial intermediaries that could cater to poor individuals and vulnerable social groups, such as credit cooperatives. Subsidised or directed credit, often granted through state-owned banks, also often go to larger or politically well-connected enterprises and benefit wealthier individuals (Levine, 2012). More competition, and reform of public banks, would make banking more attractive for poorer households and lead to a better allocation of household savings.
3.5. Improving access: the role of infrastructure and public services
Equitable access to efficient socio-economic infrastructure and effective public services is essential to achieving Inclusive Growth. Improving access to vital services - including transport, energy, information and communication technology, drinking water, sanitation, irrigation, healthcare and education – contributes to economic growth, and boosts inclusiveness. In mature economies this can take the form of increasing competition in service provision to ensure that consumers pay lower prices, or focusing infrastructure planning on people’s needs. In developing countries and emerging market economies improvements in infrastructure are an integral part of economic development. Access to paved roads, electricity and telecommunication networks allow people to draw higher dividends from their skills, efforts and experiences. At all stages of economic development, enhancing access to infrastructure and public services provides citizens with a means to take advantage of economic opportunity and helps them to live longer, more prosperous and fulfilling lives.
Regulating infrastructure matters for Inclusive Growth
Infrastructure is a public good, but well-designed regulation is needed to avoid excluding potential users. The ability of regulatory reform to boost growth is well known, as is the potential of bad regulation to dampen economic activity. Over the last two decades, experience in OECD countries has highlighted the many costs associated with over regulation. At the general level, constraints in administrative and regulatory capacity reduce the likelihood that regulation will achieve its intended results, and increase the likelihood of unintended costs, which may disproportionately affect certain vulnerable groups. On the other hand, effective regulation can extend access to vital infrastructure to previously underserved segments of the population, bolstering equality of access and contributing to future
economic growth. There are three forms of regulatory intervention open to government:
Controlling Market Entry: Relaxing the conditions for market entry can lead to more competitive and effective delivery of infrastructure services. OECD countries have used both horizontal unbundling
- i.e. separating an existing electricity enterprise into several generation companies - and vertical unbundling - i.e. separating electricity generation, transmission and distribution activities – to provide new opportunities for competition and market entry.
Controlling Prices: Price regulation is motivated by concerns over abuse by monopolies and the desire to use infrastructure prices to meet various social objectives. However, over the longer term, government attempts to control prices can have negative effects on equity. Regulators need information on utility costs, consumer characteristics and price responsiveness to set appropriate prices, and they need additional institutional capacity to enforce price regulations. Infrastructure prices tend to be politically sensitive, and price regulation has been vulnerable to short-term political considerations leading many OECD countries to rely more on price setting through competition.
Controlling Quality: Regulating service quality based on environmental, safety, health and other considerations can enhance the inclusiveness of infrastructure by ensuring that all population segments have access to higher quality services. In contrast, quality controls can also have the opposite effect, reducing inclusiveness, where the increased costs associated with regulation are passed on to service users. Indeed, in many OECD countries, enhanced competition has required a more dynamic, outputfocused approach to the role of quality regulation, for example where regulation of quality is justified, setting standards at the appropriate level has proven to be essential.
Improving access to urban transport
Better transport facilities spur growth and can improve inclusiveness. More efficient49 transport services facilitate trade and widen the geographical space for competition by reducing the cost of distance, thereby boosting economic growth. This is particularly true in cities and urban areas. Well-developed, reliable, and accessible urban transport systems mean that workers can seek work further from their homes, making for a better matching of skills and jobs.
There are efficiency and equity trade-offs when implementing new urban transport systems.
New above-ground mass-transit systems and urban motorways save time for those who use them. The value of the time saved and the impact on congestion elsewhere in the transport network are the most important factors taken into account when planning and implementing new systems or extensions.50 Adding to transport infrastructure often means cutting through existing residential areas. This makes it more difficult and costly for residents on one side of the new transport facilities to cross to the other side, and lowers environmental quality for those living close to them. In addition, the time saved by users of the new infrastructure is offset to some extent by the time lost by those inhabitants whose ability to easily access work, school, other activities and amenities has been reduced.
Defining an affordable and accessible network is technically difficult, but essential to Inclusive Growth. Inadequate transport, with long waits and multiple transfers, pushes those with sufficient means into their cars and results in a radical reduction of mobility for the less fortunate. Major conurbations can contain zones within them which are ill-served by public transport, leading to a vicious circle of low property prices, concentrated poverty, lacklustre facilities and people who cannot afford to travel to work by private transport (OECD 2012h).
Making urban transport more inclusive requires a holistic planning approach. Improving access to urban amenities calls for a drastic rethink of the urban planning paradigm, moving away from concerns about average speeds, travel times and the percentage of driving time spent in congestion. Instead, a new paradigm should focus on citizens’ ability to access urban facilities, services and opportunities, such as jobs, public services of various kinds, shopping and leisure. A change in planning paradigm also implies
changes in governance and in funding:
Decisions at the strategic level of urban mobility covering all transport modes should be concentrated in the same political body at the metropolitan level. All modes compete for limited financial resources as well as public space, and the conditions offered to each may have a significant impact on the shares of mobility they represent, as well as their respective contribution to ensuring better access.
Zoning and planning instructions should always include an explicit study of the ensuing access levels for the future residents or workers, as well as for those in nearby areas, and how that relates to the strategic objectives of access levels.
Funding of urban mobility must be addressed jointly for all modes of transport, and mobilise resources from direct beneficiaries (the users of the system) and from indirect beneficiaries (those who obtain benefits from the wider access provided by the mobility system). Direct subsidisation of the mobility of citizens with lower economic means or with reduced mobility, including older and disabled people, may be required, but widening the subsidy to all citizens (by lower public transport prices in general) can contribute to a cost escalation that ultimately results in a lower reach of the network and quality of services.
Enhancing equitable access to energy infrastructure
As in the case of transport, adequate and affordable energy infrastructure plays a vital role in ensuring that the benefits of economic growth are more equitably distributed among the population.
This is particularly true in developing countries, where “energy poverty”, or the lack of access to electricity and clean cooking facilities, is common. Access to modern forms of energy is essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation and health care, and it provides developmental benefits through the provision of reliable and efficient lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power, transportation and telecommunication services. Almost all the population lacking access to energy infrastructure lives in rural areas of SubSaharan Africa and developing Asia. In addition, the World Health Organization estimates that more than
1.45 million people die prematurely each year from household air pollution due to inefficient biomass combustion, a direct result of energy poverty (WHO, 2008) A significant portion of these are young children and women.
Despite real progress made by some emerging market economies in recent decades in providing near-universal access to electricity supplies and clean cooking facilities, the challenge ahead lies in the large scale of investment needed to expand access to energy infrastructure to all citizens. A wide range of policy actions and targeted measures are available to ensure that investment in energy infrastructure boosts economic growth while benefitting the poorest segments of the population. As highlighted in several editions of the World Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency (IEA)51, all available sources of finance will need to be tapped to target the different segments of the population still lacking energy infrastructure, including international funds, public/private partnerships, bank finance at multilateral, bilateral and local levels and microfinance, loans and targeted subsidies. Public sector intervention will need to take the form of loans and leasing finance to convert unaffordable high initial investment costs into affordable operating costs, grants and even initial operating subsidies. In addition, consumer contributions will be critical to the successful uptake of essential energy services. Evidence suggests that households that pay for even a small fraction of the cost of modern energy services are more likely to provide for maintenance and operating costs.
In mature economies, virtually all households have access to electricity and clean cooking facilities, but some cannot afford to pay for adequate heating. This “fuel poverty” is estimated to affect 9.8% of households in the EU27 and 15.8% of households in the 12 new Member States (EU SILC 2011).
It is especially prevalent in former centrally planned economies, where vulnerable groups, such as pensioners and the unemployed, can spend as much as 15% of their total income on energy.52 In the United States fuel poverty affects about 16 million households, of which only about 1 in 3 receives fuel aid53. The main cause of fuel poverty is low household income, but other factors are also important, including the propensity of lower-income households to live in older buildings with poorer heating and insulation standards. Fuel poverty can have severe consequences, a study of 40,000 excess deaths in England and Wales highlighted a potential link between poor housing and poverty and cold-related deaths54. Fuel poverty policy in developed economies has focused on two mitigation strategies: (i) government or utility subsidy programmes to lower utility or fuel bills,55 and (ii) weatherisation programmes to reduce high energy losses associated with often substandard housing occupied by lower-income households. The latter category of energy efficiency improvements can be particularly effective in reducing fuel poverty, as they permanently lower energy bills for low-income households while saving energy and providing local jobs.
The challenge of delivering an appropriate level of public services in remote areas Delivering vital services in remote and rural areas can be immensely challenging. The provision of services in these areas carries higher costs to the benefit of a smaller share of the total population.
Distances are problematic as transportation and overall costs for the provision of goods and services are higher in rural areas on a per capita basis, and low levels of population and low population density make it hard to achieve a critical mass. Moreover, the aging population structure found in a number of OECD rural areas places additional strain on service delivery. The challenges of providing services in remote areas can contribute to decreased willingness on the part of governments to subsidise rural services, particularly in periods of prolonged fiscal consolidation. In many such areas there is also a severe limitation on the choice of service provider, as there is often insufficient local demand to have numerous providers. This risks creating a situation where providers can “share the market”, facing little pressure to compete or to deliver services in a cost-effective manner. There is also the issue of the weaker communication networks found in rural areas where sparseness and distance lead to relatively simple networks with few connections.
The challenge of reaching an adequate level of public service provision in remote areas is formidable, but there are broad policy strategies that can mitigate access problems. Firstly, it is essential to fully exploit synergies by consolidating, co-locating or merging similar services. There is also an increasing role to be played for alternative delivery mechanisms. The internet will be particularly key in this regard, as it offers the possibility of providing additional services in rural areas, whilst also allowing providers in rural areas to offer services outside their immediate territory. Renewable energy exploitation can also play an important role, by reducing “fuel poverty” which can be a common feature of remote regions. In addition, innovation in remote area service provision is essential to boosting access to existing services, and can encourage the creation of new services in order to achieve better outcomes. The positive effects of service innovation in remote areas have been felt with the creation of services like the mobile handyman enterprise that operates out of a fully equipped vehicle and is scheduled by telephone or internet.