MID­DLE CLASS FEAR UN­FOUNDED

CityPress - - Voices - Kgo­moco Diseko voices@ city­press. co. za Diseko is Sassa spokesper­son. Twit­ter: @diseko

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

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

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.

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