Spreading the social security net

12 September 2005

The state injects over R3-billion a month into the budgets of poor households through social security grants, providing support to over 10 million South Africans – a number that is growing as the drive to register eligible recipients gains momentum.

South Africa’s social grants target elderly and disabled people, poor families with children, war veterans, and households taking care of children and people in need.

“The provision of social grants is the government’s most effective programme to address the income poverty of our people”, says Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya.

Annual expenditure on grants increased 3.5 times in the 10 years between 1994 and 2004, from R10-billion to R34.8-billion. During the same period, the number of South Africans receiving social grants increased from 2.6-million to over seven million.

This number has now grown to over 10 million people, with the budget for social assistance at over R55-billion for the 2005/06 financial year.

This increase came despite the removal of a significant number of people from the social grant net during anti-fraud campaigns conducted in 2005.

Over six million child beneficiaries
The child support, care dependency and foster care grants contributed significantly to this increase. Currently, over six million South African children benefit from social grants.

The government is progressively extending the child support grant to cover children up to the age of 14. Children aged between 10 and 11 qualified in the 2004/05 financial year, while children between the ages of 12 and 14 came on board in 2005/06.

“An analysis of the growth patterns and successes in improving the integrity of the social grants system seems to indicate that our targeting mechanisms are becoming more effective,” Skweyiya says.

“We have reached almost all the elderly people for old age grants, and the same can be said for disability grants.”

“The real growth for disability has only been around 1% since April 2004. The child support grant for children under seven years has stabilised, even declining since the anti-fraud initiatives. We are well on target to reaching eligible children in the 11 to 14 year age group.”

Old age, disability and care-dependency grants increased to R780 a month in April 2005 (from R740 in April 2004), while child support grants went up to R180 a month (from R170 in 2004) and foster care grants increased to R560 a month (from R530 in 2004).

Skweyiya says the economic activity generated in and around payout points underscores the magnitude of the government’s contribution to the alleviation of poverty. “The recipients of these grants end up supporting far more people than the grants were intended for.”

Fight poverty: grow the economy
He says the government recognises that the grants on their own are inadequate to address the huge challenges facing poor families and communities, and is therefore taking a multi-pronged approach to poverty alleviation, including the implementation of a comprehensive social security system.

“We are very serious about the issue and will continue to look at different options in addressing poverty”, Skweyiya says. Calling for public-private partnerships to fight poverty, he adds that the government is always open to well-researched, constructive suggestions.

In his 2004 State of the Nation address, President Thabo Mbeki said the government would continue to build a social security net to alleviate poverty in the country, as well as to implement other social security initiatives, such as the school nutrition programme and the provision of free basic water and electricity services.

Mbeki said, however, that a society in which large sections of the population depended on social welfare could not sustain its development.

“Our comprehensive programme to grow the economy, including interventions in both the first and second economies, improving sustainable livelihoods and creating work, is meant to ensure that, over time, a smaller proportion of society, in particular the most vulnerable, subsists solely on social grants”, Mbeki said.

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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