Government is under pressure from HIV/AIDS organisations to lower the pension age as one way of lessening the impact of the epidemic on families.
The organisations argue that this is an affordable option as recent projections show that the AIDS epidemic will cause the average life expectancy of South Africans to drop to a mere 40 years old by 2008.
“The burden of HIV/AIDS is falling on the poorest of the poor,” says Yvonne Spain, co-ordinator of Children in Distress (CINDI), a KwaZulu-Natal based network of organisations dealing with children affected by HIV/AIDS.
“Breadwinners are dying. Grandparents and other relatives are being forced to support large numbers AIDS orphans. If the pension age were lowered, it would go a long way to easing the burden on families and ensuring that orphans could remain within their extended families.”
The SA National Council for Child Welfare has also appealed to government for a “policy decision” on how to assist “grannies” under the age of 60 with no income or financial assistance who are being expected to care for orphans.
However, Fezile Makiwane, welfare department’s head of social security, says this is but one of a number of “competing demands” government is considering as part of its overhaul of social security.
Makiwane says that a special Cabinet committee on social security is reviewing “all family benefits”. The committee, which is chaired by Professor Vivienne Taylor, the welfare minister’s special adviser, expects to have “a comprehensive social security strategy by early next year”.
“There are a lot of competing demands, ranging from unemployment to the impact of HIV/AIDS,” said Makiwane.
CINDI, Child Welfare and a range of other organisations are also calling for the child support grant of R100 for poor children under the age of seven to be extended.
CINDI says that the grant should cover children up to at least 15 years of age, while a petition being circulated by the New Women’s Movement says all children under 18 should get a grant.
However, Makiwane says that there is a strong lobby for “general assistance for those living in poverty” along the lines of a “basic income grant” proposed by the Presidential Job Summit.
In a recent address to parliament, Welfare Minister Zola Skweyiya said that the committee on social security would consult widely before presenting Cabinet with proposals that would ensure “the most vulnerable households” were prioritised. ‘ Health-e News Service.