The age limit for the child-support grant will be raised by one year to include 14-year-olds as from January next year, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel announced on Wednesday.
He also said the qualifying age for men for the state old-age pension would be reduced from 65 to 63 this year, to 61 in 2009, and 60 by 2010.
At the same time, the household income threshold for the support-grant would be raised, and the means test for old age and disability grants revised.
Though Manuel made no mention of future extensions of the child grant, Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya said last week that it would eventually be extended to the age of 18.
This would be phased in over the next two to three years, Skweyiya said.
Manuel told MPs that Skweyiya had also indicated the need to review eligibility criteria for the grant, in line with practice in many countries, aimed at reinforcing the responsibilities of caregivers.
“These might include regular school attendance, for example, or immunisation of children in keeping with healthcare requirements.
“There is rightly public interest in these matters, and we should ask this House to lead an active debate.”
He said the amount of the grant would increase by R10 in April and a further R10 in October, to R220 a month.
Old-age pensions would be raised in April, by R70 a month, to R940.
These increases matched or exceeded inflation, and took into account the disproportionate impact of price increases on the poor, Manuel said.
“Together with measures to extend the social security net, the additional social assistance cost amounts to R12-billion over the next three years.
“The total number of grant beneficiaries is 12,4-million, and expenditure on social assistance will be R75,3-billion next year.”
According to the Budget Review, tabled along with his speech, there were a mere three million beneficiaries in 1997.
The reduction of the qualifying age for the old age pension will bring men into line with women, who already get the grant at 60.
However the Review also warned that beyond 2010/11, it would be necessary to reconsider the pension qualifying age.
“Rising life expectancy and improvements in employment and social conditions will in years to come necessitate upwards adjustments to the normal age of retirement,” it said.
“In keeping with international practice … these changes will be made gradually, announced well in advance.” – Sapa