Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Social grants reduce or worsen poverty?

South African is one of the many African countries – although a lot has changed since some of these countries have been run democratically here and there and there’s still much more that needs to be done – that has been and continues to be affected by the high and unacceptable level of poverty and unemployment.

In an effort to curb the level of poverty and unemployment among the poorer communities in the country, the government introduced what is now known as the social grant.

This is a form of assistance to families that on a daily basis experience these heartfelt dire conditions. However, not all communities qualify for this grant, but only certain categories qualify, including among others: elderly citizens from 55 to 60 years of age, child-headed households or and their guardians, the disabled and families with at least less than R2 500.00 income a month.

Although this may be received by certain sections of the society, it is believe that the grant has helped many families who before were not able to put food on the table and are now able to do that. Most importantly, although it came later, the social grant system is also in line with the Millennium Development Goals which the government has committed itself to achieving.

Commonly known as the MDGs – aimed at alleviating the level of poverty in many of the developing and development countries, South African included, poverty is one goals the government and many other countries around the globe have committed themselves to achieving.

Halving the present level of unemployment by half 2014 compared to the current one, reducing the number of HVI/AIDS infections and increasing the level of literacy are just some of the MDGs South Africa has committed itself to also achieving.

The social grant over the years has raised some concerns in some quarters of the society with many believing that the school-going children who continued to give birth to children were encouraged to do so knowing very well they will receive the social grant, although not sure whether using it for the intended purpose or not.

A research by Human Science Research Council (if memory serves me well), however, later proved the opposite of what many had all along believed: that school pupils do have more children with the intention of receiving the social grant offered by the social development department.

Since its introduction more than 5 years ago, the social grant of all categories mentioned before has seen some changes almost every financial year. In fact, there has been an increase of some sort to the social grant every financial year.

Given the level of poverty, some in many quarters have argued that the grant should be increased from 15 to 18 years of age with the hope that this will – one way or another – help those impoverished members of the society, being the poorer households.

It was only late October this year, 2009 – after some research and intense and rigorous debates – that this call of accommodating children until the ages of 18 was heeded to by government.

Cabinet is pleased to announce the approval of the extension of the Child Support Grant (GSG) to eligible children between the ages of 15-18 years. The current (GSG) policy only catered for children up to the age of 15 years, said government in a statement released by the department of communications on the 22 October 2009.

Government said the decision ‘only applies to children from poor households and is part of Government’s commitment to reduce incidence of poverty amongst children'.

Because of the tendencies by some of the recipients of not returning to school, especially those school-going pupils, government has warned that ‘caregivers [assumed to be parents or guardians] of the beneficiaries will have the responsibility to ensure that the beneficiaries remain in school’.

This, one must say, will be quite challenging yet somewhat attainable for those parents who have never encouraged and allowed any unruly behaviour of their children.

But for those parents who have directly or otherwise encouraged and allowed such unruly behaviour of their children, it will be a difficult responsibility to ‘ensure the beneficiaries [some of them our sisters, daughters and while others relatives] remain in school’.

Where one comes from, the social grant has somewhat worsened the level of poverty for many continue to see it as an opportunity to earn a living without having to go through what a normal labour processes, if not disasters, would involve – except some labour pains – while to the majority of the communities it has tremendously changed their lives for the better, especially the poorer households who have had little or no income at all.

To date, since its introduction some years ago has there been any changes and or improvements in the lives of the many impoverished and poorer households who have and continue to receive the social grant in the country or in whatever country you may be? Or has the system just worsened the level of poverty instead of curbing it?

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