Social welfare at crossroads
TWENTY years ago South Africa embarked on a bold strategy to renew its welfare system.
This was part of a larger project to transform SA society to achieve peace and social justice and overcome previous social divisions.
Significant policy and legislative achievements have been made, and a rights-based approach to social welfare has been promoted.
Formal racial discrimination in access to services has been abolished. And a nationally integrated single welfare system has been created for all South Africans.
SA is acknowledged as the leader and an innovator on social development in the global South. But the implementation of these policies has not been seamless.
Social grants have had a major effect on poverty reduction and some effects on reducing inequality. But without growth in employment it will be difficult to reduce income poverty substantially.
Despite the achievements of the social protection system, there is still considerable debate on whether this is the right way forward. Issues include the widespread belief that social grant beneficiaries abuse the money, that the grant encourages teenage pregnancies and dependency on the state.
These views pose a threat they could lead to a backlash against the programme among politicians, taxpayers and the public.
Recent local and national election campaigns also show how social grants can be used by the ruling party for its electoral gain. The discourse in the ruling party during the 2014 electioneering was that grant beneficiaries who voted for the opposition were betraying the hand that feeds them rendering them unsure whether their grants are protected if they voted for another party.
This has given rise to a view that social grants are a form of votebuying for example, the distributing of food parcels during elections. Flaws in the system The White Paper for Social Welfare set out a policy framework, proposals and recommendations for implementation. But there was a lack of clarity about definitions and the application of the approach. This was believed to be a major factor in the lack of progress that was made in implementation.
Different interpretations exist, such as that individual therapeutic interventions and statutory child protection services were to be replaced with community development and with income generation programmes. Social workers felt ill-equipped to implement the new approach. Some saw it as marginalising the social work profession. This was historically the primary profession in the welfare field. Resistance was therefore evident.
Large-scale transformation of a country s welfare system requires substantial change in management interventions. These help professionals and service providers make strategic shifts.
There has also been inadequate monitoring and evaluation of social development policies. There is a lack of agreed indicators to measure and track changes over time. Welfare services crowded out In the latter part of the 1990s the government adopted the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy (GEAR). It signalled a retreat from the basic needs approach of the earlier Reconstruction and Development Programme.
Although this did not result in a significant lowering of social spending, government was concerned with reducing its debt burden.
GEAR could be described as a voluntary structural adjustment programme and was severely criticised by the labour movement and civil society organisations
Later, as economic growth and the state s capacity to raise taxes improved, increased resources were directed to the social sector. Political support also increased, resulting in the expansion of social grants.
But the expansion of social assistance at the time had a negative impact on education and health services. The trade-off between social development programme at the expense of other important programmes was highlighted by both government and groups in the social sector.
While National Treasury tried to balance these trade-offs, welfare services continued to be crowded out as social assistance expanded. Although there have been some increases in recent years to address the imbalance, welfare services and community development programmes remain neglected. Implementation stymied Challenges of an institutional, economic and political nature influenced the way developmental approach was implemented.
Social welfare services are delivered as a concurrent function by provincial governments. The ability of provinces to redirect welfare funds to other services and priorities means that developmental welfare services are underfunded.
The inability of provincial governments to plan, implement and evaluate service delivery outcomes also hampered delivery.
Power struggles between government officials and non-profit organisation (NPO) partners also holds back the potential benefits of this partnership model.
In addition, services delivered by NPOs reached a limited number of people as they are mostly concentrated in urban areas.
A lack of institutional capacity, including loss of staff by NPOs to government has been a serious impediment.
But increasing the number of practitioners to implement a social treatment approach to social work and service delivery will not have the desired outcome unless appropriate training is given to students and existing personnel in developmental welfare.
A lack of resources to support research and innovation, together with a lack of transformation leadership to champion social development, are other barriers.
Corruption is widely reported in government, including the welfare field where the social grants system is the most targeted.
Service delivery protests in local communities are drawing attention to the failure of local authorities to meet community needs due to corruption by public officials.
Labour disputes also spark protests and violence in communities, especially those areas with mining operations. Party political divisions and dynamics also underlie community-level conflict and tensions.
Government has implemented various interventions to increase efficiency, particularly in the administration of social grants despite numerous challenges faced by welfare and development agencies and practitioners.
Patel is professor of social development studies at University of Johannesburg. Source: https://theconversation.com