South Africa’s welfare system is in the midst of a massive shake-up which stakeholders are hoping could result in government paying out more money to destitute children.
Government’s current child support grant, recently increased to R110, is reaching a negligible percentage (7%) of those children who need it most.
At a recent meeting in Cape Town, about 90 roleplayers from the children’s sector and government officials, including those from a special committee charged with revising the entire social security system, grappled with how to set up an efficient “safety net” for the children of South Africa.
The meeting took place against the background of statistics that reveal 44% of South Africans are younger than 18 years, and up to 70% of these children live in poverty.
“The current social security system is fragmented and non-comprehensive. Too many children fall between the gaps,” said Teresa Guthrie, researcher at the Child Health Policy Unit (University of the Cape Town), which co-hosted the workshop with the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication and the Children’s Rights Centre Trust.
Currently a poverty alleviation grant (child support grant) is only available to children up to the age of seven years, with only 33% of those children who are eligible receiving the grant.
Special grants include the care dependency grants for children with severe disabilities and foster care grants for children placed by the courts in foster care.
The current system does not provide for particularly vulnerable groups, such as children infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, street children, child-headed households and children with mild to moderate disabilities.
In response to all the shortcomings, the Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya appointed a Committee of Inquiry headed by Professor Viviene Taylor, to make recommendations for a Comprehensive Social Security System.
A task team, The Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security, will now meet with the committee and make several recommendations.
Skweyiya says the committee has to complete its work and report back to Cabinet by the end of July.
“Consensus was reached on the purpose of social security as being to provide for the basic needs of children and the special needs arising from chronic health conditions or compromised home environments in order to ensure the child’s survival and a standard of living adequate for the child’s development,” said Guthrie.
The recommendations included the introduction of a basic income grant for both children and adults.
Those earning over a certain amount will repay the grant as a tax. The amount allocated to children would be greater than the adult amount and must be linked to objective measures of poverty, need and inflation.
A top up amount must be made available to children with special needs. Additionally the package must include indirect assistance such as free or subsidised transport, health and education.
The workshop’s recommendations for this new package took into account the need for both a comprehensive longer term solution as above, as well as immediate measures to address the urgent needs of children currently falling through the gaps.
Short term recommendations for immediate effect include increasing the eligibility for the Child Support Grant to include all children up to 18 years, increasing the current amount above R110 and improving access and administrative procedures.
The needs of children affected and infected by HIV/AIDS, in particular child headed households, must receive urgent attention.
Guthrie said participants recognised the importance of child participation in the review process and a strategy was being developed to ensure this.
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