Talks are under way in government to possibly extend child grants for needy children from 18 years of age to 23.
The proposal has been met with mixed reaction, with some roleplayers welcoming it and others questioning the timing of the move and saying that such a step will make people that much more dependent on government.
“And it is taxpayers who will have to pay,” said Francois Stofberg, economist at the Efficient Group.
Lumka Oliphant, spokesperson for the minister of social development, Bathabile Dlamini, responded to enquiries by saying no policy decision had yet been taken, but Dlamini had begun talks about the issue.
“This is about our investment in human capital,” she said.
But she came out strongly against critics who were against the move.
“To say that we’re making people more dependent is an insult to poor people. No one wants to be poor and have to depend on hand-outs, but this is the majority of our people’s daily reality and it makes a difference. The criticism is an elitist perception. We must change the discourse around welfare grants.”
Oliphant says there are a significant number of households where older children have to care for their younger brothers and sisters. The department is compiling a countrywide register of these households.
“When the children turn 18, they are not better off overnight. Statistics also show that the prevalence of HIV/Aids is the biggest in the age group between 19 and 23.”
Elroy Paulus, national discussion manager at Black Sash, said they would welcome such a step in the context of poverty and unemployment.
“People who believe that poor people will simply become more dependent, don’t understand the impact of poverty.”
Paulus also questioned the timing of such a discussion and said he hoped it wasn’t viewed as the only short-term solution.
And Frans Cronje, executive head of the SA Institute for Race Relations, warned against short-term solutions and politicking.
“The real problem for this age group is unemployment, which is already close to 50%, and judging by opinion polls, the youth are sick and tired of this. It is, therefore, a significant political risk for the ANC.”
He said the ANC could either formulate policies that will make it easier for the youth to find jobs, or it could extend social grants.
According to Cronje, it is not a good idea to extend the grant system.
“It is a short-term solution. And where is the money for more grants going to come from?”
Stofberg asked whether South Africa could afford to extend the grants with a weak rand and weak economic growth.
“The government has to facilitate more job opportunities for young people through the private sector.”
According to Oliphant, there are almost 16 million children in the country, of which 11 million are already receiving social grants.
She described the costs involved as a R10 billion investment in children within a certain income group.
The figures and costs, should such a decision become policy, were not yet available, she said. “The minister is just thinking aloud.”
Louise Batty, managing director of KeeptheDream169, a community-based organisation in Limpopo that works with orphans, warned against the creation of a second level of poverty.
“People die literally of poverty and many will be very happy to hear this, but instead of being given hand-outs, the children should be empowered.
“Create jobs, support organisations that do the groundwork, and make communities part of the empowerment projects.”
Thoko Kokela-Ntuli, executive head of the organisation Buhle in Bronkhorstspruit, which also works with needy children, said the grant would definitely help.
“There are children, especially HIV/Aids orphans over the age of 18 who are still in school. To stop the grant at that age doesn’t make sense. What then becomes of the children?”
And Sabelo Ntanzi, chairperson of Bophelo in Soweto, which cares for the aged and orphans, said the extension of the grant would be the best news.
“Children leave school because they cannot support themselves.
“This will definitely help.”