There was some good news for children in Minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2011 budget speech which shed some light on several aspects of the State of the nation Address by President Zuma earlier in February.
During his State of the Nation Address President Zuma indicated that education and health, among others, would be top priorities for the government. He also proudly indicated that approximately 15 million South Africans receive social assistance, with the Child Support Grant being available to all children younger than 18 - a hard-won achievement that is indeed worthy of pride, and indicative of a truly caring society, where 24 percent of people remain unemployed. And Minister Gordhan’s speech demonstrated that education, healthcare and on-going social assistance will indeed be priorities in 2011.
ACESS is pleased that the Child Support Grant will be increased to R260 in April, and to R270 in October this year, but unsure of the motives behind a staggered increase. It is not clear why the Child Support Grant inflation increase is being staggered while the other grants’ inflation related increases happen up front in April. The increase to the grant in February 2010 did not keep pace with inflation, which threatened its proven ability to combat child poverty. A R20 increase in April 2011 would therefore have been preferable. The Foster Care Grant was boosted by R30, the Care Dependency Grant by R60, and there are ‘proposed revisions’ to the various means test thresholds that will benefit more households. It is unfortunate that the Minster did not elaborate on these proposed revisions but we hope that they do indeed result in more households qualifying for the grants.
According to the Minister, education will take up the largest share of government spending, with R8.3 billion added over the MTEF period for school infrastructure, and R1 billion for teacher bursaries. ACESS hopes that this will go some way to ensuring at least two of President Zuma’s “three T’s” - teachers, in classrooms, on time. Unfortunately, the Minister did not provide budgetary details regarding textbooks, being the third “T”.
ACESS is also pleased to see an express budgetary commitment to improving maternal and child health, given South Africa’s unacceptably high infant and under five child death and maternal mortality rates, with research showing that almost 60 percent of these deaths are avoidable. The allocation of R1.2 billion for the introduction of family health care teams is also most encouraging - not only for the beneficiaries of such services, but for community care workers, child and youth care workers and many more, who provide crucial services under often-difficult working conditions.
“The scheduled increases in the Child Support Grant are wonderful news for children living in poverty, but we are unclear about why the increases are staggered when all other grants have increased by once off lump sums that keep pace with inflation,” said Sanja Bornman, policy and development coordinator at ACESS.
Denise Damon, acting director of ACESS said, “The Minister made some key allocations to social assistance, education and health that will hopefully transform into meaningful impact in the lives of children living in poverty. We hope that the staggered increase of the Child Support Grant is not an indication that government views it as a less important grant.”