Last Updated: Friday, 11 July 2014, 13:14 GMT

South Africa: New budget leaves vulnerable teens in the cold

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 12 February 2009
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), South Africa: New budget leaves vulnerable teens in the cold, 12 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/499926581a.html [accessed 13 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

JOHANNESBURG, 12 February 2009 (IRIN) - South Africa is to expand social safety nets in 2009, making it one of the world's biggest spenders on social grants, but the global economic crisis has forced some hard choices that may leave many of its poor out in the cold.

For the first time in three years, South Africa will record a budget deficit - partly in order to maintain its commitment to poverty alleviation - Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said in his budget speech on 11 February. About 12 percent of government spending in the coming year will be devoted to cash transfers.

While the country improves safety nets for some, such as pensioners, the budget's wait-and-see language on extending the age of qualification for child grants from 15 to 18, coupled with compulsory education, has taken civil society by surprise. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party committed itself to widening entitlement in its manifesto for the general election, due in April.

Manuel said, "Compelling evidence that the phasing-in of the child support grant has contributed significantly to reducing child poverty has emerged in recent research," and added that "Consideration is being given, subject to affordability, to the extension of the child support grant."

The child grant is awarded to children whose parents earn less than US$230 per month (R2,300). Earlier this year, the grant was widened to include 15 year olds and the 2009 budget increases the value of the grant to $24 (R240) per month but does not expand the grant's scope in terms of beneficiaries.

An unexpected setback

The finance minister's caution was an unexpected shift in tone. "The ANC manifesto was much clearer that it [child grant] would be increased - we understood that to be a decision. We are certainly pushing for the extension of the grant very strongly, and it needs to be implemented as soon as possible," said Patrick Craven, spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).

"Children need to be educated; frankly, children need to be attending school, and that clearly does not stop at 18. We want to encourage people to stay at school for as long as possible."

The ANC's recognition of the goal of providing grant support up to the age of 18 follows a seven-year battle, spearheaded by children's lobby groups like the Alliance for Children's Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS).

Alison Tilley, campaign manager for the organisation, said she expected to see grants expand in 2009 and government spending across the board increase, given the global financial crisis that has caused demand for South Africa's commodities to drop and unemployment in its mining sector to rise.

"There's no question that the global crisis has played a role in the budget, overall ? it's a budget in which there is much more spending and a bigger deficit than people anticipated. It's the sort of countercyclical spending that you are seeing in other countries hit hard by the crisis," she noted.

Nevertheless, "We were under the impression that this would be the beginning of the rollout of the child grant to 18 years. We were very much surprised and disappointed. According to out calculations, a rollout would cost something like R1.9 billion [$190 million]," Tilley told IRIN.

"It's not a question of what's affordable, it's a question of what your choices are," said Tilley, who added that child grants have been shown to decrease hunger, increase school attendance in children receiving the grants, and increase job-seeking behaviour in the adults around them.

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