Children are among the hardest hit by poverty, and poor households bear the main responsibility for looking after the greatest number of children.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of the country’s children live below the upper bound poverty line (R965 per person per month in 2015), and inequalities in access to quality services and opportunities still run along racial and spatial lines. So, for example, 41% of all African children – and 33% of Africans of all ages – live in the poorest 20% of households in the country. Children in the former homeland areas are the most adversely affected.
“High levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty mean that many people do not have the financial resources to provide for their children,” notes Aislinn Delany, lead editor of the Child Gauge 2016.
Launched in Pretoria today, the South African Child Gauge 2016 is produced by the Children’s Institute in partnership with UNICEF South Africa; the Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development in the national Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation; the DST-NRF Centre for Excellence in Human Development at the University of the Witwatersrand; and the FNB Fund. The Child Gauge is the CI’s annual publication, reporting on progress towards the realisation of children’s rights in South Africa.
Child income poverty is linked to adult unemployment, which stands at 27% but is estimated to be as high as 36% if discouraged work seekers are taken into account. As a result, a third of children in South Africa (30%, or 5,5-million) live in households where no adults are employed.
“A combination of historical factors, poor education and an increasingly knowledge-based economy means that many people are unable to find employment or those who have jobs earn low incomes,” explains Mastoera Sadan of the Programme to Support Pro-poor Policy Development (PSPPD) in the national Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation.
Child poverty carries long-term costs for both the individual child and society at large.
Professor Linda Richter, of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Human Development, points out that the average loss of adult income per year of young children growing up in poverty is estimated to be 26%, trapping individuals and their families in ongoing cycles of poverty.
Social assistance – or material support provided by the state to those who are unable to support themselves – is therefore indispensable for children, especially during their first two years, the period of their most rapid brain and cognitive growth.
This year marks the coming of age of the Child Support Grant (CSG), established 18 years ago in 1998, now recognised as one of South Africa’s most successful poverty alleviation strategies.
To look back at the evolution of the grant – and tap into the now-substantial body of research and evidence that has been amassed around it – the Children’s Institute (CI), University of Cape Town, has dedicated its South African Child Gauge 2016 to the theme of children and social assistance. The issue looks closely at the CSG and its impact on millions of impoverished children and their caregivers in South Africa.
In 2016, a total of 12-million children receive the CSG, exercising their Constitutional right to social security, through their caregivers.
The 2016 issue is the 11th Child Gauge and looks at how the CSG has benefited South Africa’s children. It also reflects on challenges that remain as the grant matures into what is now a well-established element of social protection policy.
“The CSG is associated with improved nutrition, health and schooling among children,” explains Alejandro Grinspun of UNICEF South Africa. So, for example:
* The CSG enables households to increase spending on food and helps to reduce child hunger and improve child nutrition, with the strongest effects in poorer households.
* The CSG has helped halve the share of children living below the food poverty line (the most severe measure of poverty), from 58% of children in 2003 to 30% in 2014. Children living in extreme poverty have benefitted the most.
* The CSG is associated with improvements in schooling, including enrolment, progression and attainment.
* The CSG has a protective effect in adolescence, and receipt of the CSG during early childhood is associated with reduced alcohol and drug use and delayed sexual debut among teenage girls.
* The CSG also enables caregivers to seek employment by contributing to travel and child care costs.
“Targeting of the CSG has been so effective that its benefits accrue mostly to South Africa’s poorest, and it is children living in extreme poverty who have gained the most from it,” notes Grinspun.
With these benefits in mind, the CSG is clearly a crucial investment in children and the future. “In the face of persistently high unemployment, social grants – together with access to quality education, health and social services and other measures – support families to care for their children, and are a core component of broader social protection strategies to enable all children to realise their full potential,” adds Delany.
Challenges remain for the system, however, points out Delany. Many eligible children – around 1,8-million – are still not accessing the grant, many of these are the neediest young children.
Key barriers include difficulty in accessing the necessary documents for the grant application. There is also confusion around who qualifies for the grant, and the application process can be time-consuming and costly for low-income applicants. In addition, some beneficiaries complain of being treated with disrespect by officials.
While the introduction of electronic payments has improved efficiencies, it comes with its own concerns, including exploitative sales and loans, and unauthorised deductions.
More critically, at R360 per month (or R12 a day), the Child Support Grant is in effect a very small amount. It falls below all three of the national poverty lines proposed by Statistics South Africa, including the food poverty line – a measure of extreme poverty valued at R415 (in 2015) that is only enough to cover a child’s most basic daily food needs.
This means that, despite all its successes, the CSG can only do so much, says Sadan. “Its effects on reducing inequality are muted in the short term because of its low cash amount.”
There are a few other gaps and shortcomings in the social assistance system. Take-up remains low among caregivers of infants under the age of one year, where the effects of poverty and poor nutrition have the greatest impact on children’s survival and development. Once children reach 18 years, their access to social assistance ends as there are no grants for adults aged 18-59 (unless they qualify for a Disability Grant). In addition, the use of the complex Foster Child Grant (FCG), instead of the simple CSG, to alleviate poverty of orphans living in the care of relatives has led to an unmanageable overload of the child protection system. As a result, the majority of orphans cannot access the FCG and children who have been abused or neglected are not receiving quality protection services.
It is clear from these challenges that it is necessary not only to consolidate the benefits of the CSG over the past 18 years, but also to maximise its impact. To this end, a number of proposals are currently under consideration. This, says the CI’s Delany, would assist in realising children’s rights to social assistance. “Any discussion of policy reforms must be underpinned by the constitutional imperative to progressively realise the right to social assistance for children in need.”
Furthermore, social grants must be seen as part of integrated social services and interventions, say Leila Patel and Sophie Plagerson of the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg. “The challenge remains to build on the CSG’s positive outcomes without losing its coherence, to find the right mix of solutions that can enlarge individuals’ economic and social opportunities, and to address the social exclusion still experienced by many CSG beneficiaries.”
Sadan reiterates the central role of the grant as an investment in children and in the country as a whole. “Given widespread and persistent poverty and inequality in South Africa, the CSG is an investment in the development and potential of children,” she says. “Together with investments in other services, social grants can build the resilience of children and their families with social and economic benefits to society in the long-run.”