Middle class fear unfounded

2014-08-14 06:45

In her book, All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community, Carol Stack tries to illustrate the collective adaptations to poverty of people within the sociocultural network of the black family.

She contends that “black family life cannot be understood without the grasp of extended family ties”.

This holds true in South Africa. In fact, it can be argued that the notion of the extended family also applies to other racial groups.

Now you might ask: “What has this got to do with social grants?”

The short answer is that social grants ease the burden of supporting the extended family. The National Development Plan’s chapter on social protection recognises the fact that basic services complement people’s earnings to ensure everyone can access a minimum consumption level.

Trade unionists will tell you that when you calculate the salary of a worker, it is easy to ignore the fact that the same person might have two dependants in the immediate family, but will be supporting another five people in the extended family as well.

I was privileged to speak to an elderly woman who used her old-age grant and three child grants to look after her three orphaned grandchildren and another two children in the neighbourhood.

It was only then that I appreciated how our government touches the lives of ordinary people.

The woman said she was driven by the age-old African adage?“your child is my child and my child is yours”.

We all need Nelson Mandela Day moments like these to appreciate the impact of these grants on beneficiaries and our economy instead of repeating untested speculation and justifying it with a claim that says “perception is everything”.

Our social grants system has come under attack from the middle class, who feel it’s a waste of their tax contributions and begets dependency.

South Africans have nothing to fear because social grants have a multiplier effect that improves lives and cushions us against social ills that can be created by conditions of deprivation.

In a paper by Dr Ramos Mabugu of the government’s Financial and Fiscal Commission and others, questions are asked about whether our social grants posed a risk to the country’s fiscal sustainability.

The authors contend that South Africa’s fiscal system cannot only be judged on its fiscal outcomes, but on its constitutional obligation to further the progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights, especially in the case of children and the dignity of the elderly.

In response to the red herring that the grant system poses a threat to fiscal sustainability, the authors of this study boldly dismissed this concern as unfounded.

The study attributes the growth in the social grants pool to policy changes such as increases in age eligibility and growth in the take-up rates of eligible people. It forecasts that this growth will stabilise.

We should be circumspect and produce credible evidence when beating the drum of sustainability because the social grants system cushioned our kith and kin against the ravages of the recent global recession.

Many myths about the grant are dispelled in a Unicef child support grant impact assessment survey commissioned by the social development department and the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa).

It found the receipt of this grant in the first two years of life improves height-for-age scores for mothers who had more than eight schooling grades. This because a child’s cognitive development depends on receiving appropriate nutrition in the early stages of development.

This is corroborated by recently published research done at the economics department of Stellenbosch University. It also found that a child who received the grant very early in life grew 1cm taller than a child who received it after the age of two.

As an enabler, this grant increases food expenditure because nutritional development and education are important for the future of children.

As citizens and nonprofit organisations, we should focus our energies on identifying eligible children below the age of two who are not yet on the social grant system and help bring them on board.

It’s surprising to still see social-media posts claiming that the child support grant encourages teen pregnancy.

This myth has been dispelled in scientific papers?–?one that comes to mind is a 2012 University of Johannesburg study that showed 5% of child support grant beneficiaries are between the ages of 16 and 20.

We’re so hard on ourselves as South Africans that it takes a visitor to notice the sometimes unpublished good work we are doing. Sassa annually gets visitors from developed and undeveloped nations who come to learn about our innovative social grant system.

At the moment, reforms have been proposed to extend child grants beyond 18 for orphans and children in state institutions.

I have not lost hope and think we will mature to a stage where we embrace such proposals without first asking what they will do to the fiscus.

» Diseko is Sassa spokesperson. Twitter: @diseko

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