So­cial wel­fare at cross­roads

Sunday World - - Opinion -

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

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