16 August 2011
Child support grants significantly lessened the impact of poverty in South Africa during the 2008-09 global recession, according to two studies conducted by the government and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).
The reports, entitled “The Impact of the International Financial Crisis on Child Poverty in South Africa”, and “Vulnerability of Children and Poor Families to the Economic Recession of 2008-2009”, were released on Monday.
They were conducted by Unicef along with South Africa’s Department of Social Development and Financial and Fiscal Commission.
They found that child grants served as a form of diversified income, making poor households less susceptible to the effects of the recession.
“As occurred globally, there was little time for an anti-poverty policy response when the economic recession struck South Africa,” the reports note. “The existence of a well-functioning social protection system before the crisis was therefore very important for protecting the poor.
“The studies found the child support grant to be one such viable pre-crisis social protection instruments.”
Unemployment insurance also effective
While the quantitative study found the child support grant to have a significant ameliorating effect during the recession, the qualitative study showed that unemployment insurance also cushioned many individuals and their families from the effects of the recession.
“Affected households, who were not receiving state support, were impacted more negatively by the recession as they were more likely to cut food expenditure, change the type of food eaten in the household and reduce the number of meals eaten per day in the household than those who were receiving state support,” the studies found.
The reports recommended raising public awareness of the grants and other services offered by the Department of Social Development, in order to help people know where to go for help.
They also noted that the Social Relief of Distress Grant was unknown by most South African households.
Over 10-million children benefiting
By the end of March this year, 10.3-million South African children were benefiting from the grant, while child foster care benefits were provided to over 512 000 children.
The reports recommended that still more be done to reach some two-million eligible children who, mainly to administrative reasons, were not receiving the child support grant.
The consolidation of various social protection instruments, including the grants and unemployment insurance, should be accelerated as the combined effects were significant for poverty reduction.
“The optimal provision of free public health care should also be addressed to ensure that all poor people, especially children, have access to health care,” the reports recommended.
Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini said the right to social security was “entrenched in our Constitution, and we have been very conscious that our social assistance programme does provide a basic safety net for millions of South Africans, especially young, aged and the disabled.”
Unicef representative Aida Girma commended the government for its social assistance programme, saying state failure to protect the young “can lead to children suffering from malnutrition and absence from school, and the damage can last a lifetime.”