Social welfare net 'growing'

2009-07-04 10:01

Cape Town - The state has started paying welfare grants to an additional 300 000 teenagers and 70 000 elderly men in the past year, Social Development Minister Edna Molewa said on Friday.

Molewa told MPs this was the result of extending state support to children up to the age of 15 and gradually lowering the age at which male senior citizens qualify for state help to 60 to ensure gender parity in the system.

In April, it became 61 years of age and this will see a further 55 000 men registered for welfare grants by August, she said in the social development budget debate in Parliament.

By spring, another 200 000 children below 15 would be brought into the welfare safety net.

But the minister said more than two million children over that age still lived in dire poverty. The department would soon table a plan for phasing in the extension of the child support grant to children up to 18, she said.

It was also mulling adequate ways of helping the millions who were not underage or elderly to cope with deepening poverty as South Africa weathered its first recession in 15 years.

"In the meantime we need to address the question of how to best provide an adequate safety net for every person living in poverty.

"This is the time for us to give serious thought to the nature of the social protection measures needed by those between the ages of 18 and 59 affected by poverty and social exclusion. Linking those measures with training and employment will be key."

She said the government would release a blueprint for a mandatory system of retirement provision in October, with an eye to establishing a government sponsored pension fund in the course of next year.

"These proposals will bring about a fairer system of tax subsidies, reduce the cost of saving for retirement, and introduce improved governance oversight of pension funds."

Molewa said her department was cracking down on welfare grant fraud by civil servants, and hoped to have brought 2 000 corrupt officials to book by the end of the year.

The SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) had also turned its attention to people in the private sector who defrauded the system, she said.

The minister said a tribunal set up to review potentially wrong decisions by SASSA has so far heard 20 000 appeals.

"Those adversely affected will now be paid the grants for which they qualify," she said.