/ 11 February 2009

Child support grant could extend to 18-year-olds

The child support grant could soon be extended to children up to the age of 18 after the emergence of ''compelling new evidence'', Manuel said.

The child support grant could soon be extended to children up to the age of 18 after the emergence of ”compelling new evidence”, Manuel said on Wednesday.

The monthly grant, raised in the 2009 budget to R240, was extended to children up to the age of 15 in January, but Manuel said the department was considering increasing the age after receiving evidence that the programme was significantly contributing to a reduction in child poverty.

”Compelling evidence that the phasing-in of the child support grant has contributed significantly to reducing child poverty has emerged in recent research, and so consideration is being given, subject to affordability, to the extension of the child support grant to the age of 18,” Manuel said.

By mid-January about 8 000 applications for the new grant were processed. It is expected that about 500 000 children will benefit from the extension.

Manuel said certain conditions are being considered, such as those children who access the support grant must attend school.

The household income threshold for the child support grant has been raised to R27 600 a year.

Manuel said a further R13,2-billion will be added to the government’s social grants programme in 2009 to help poor families in a vulnerable period.

”Strengthening our social security safety net is critical during this period when many poor families are vulnerable,” Manuel said.

The 2009 Budget Review document says spending on social protection had increased from R72,3-billion in 2005/06 to R118,1-billion in 2009/10.

From April the maximum value of the old age, disability and care dependency grants will rise by R50 to R1 010 a month. The foster care grant will increase to R680.

Men will now be able to receive the old age grant from the age of 60. About 70 000 men accessed the old age grant when it was lowered to the age of 63 in July 2008.

The government’s social grants programme now covers about 13-million beneficiaries. The proposed extension of the social grants is likely to bring an additional two million beneficiaries into the system.

Spending on social assistance is projected to rise by 10,2% a year from R71-billion in 2008 to R95-billion in 2011.

The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) expects beneficiary numbers to grow by 7,3% over the next three years.

The UIF, which had capital and reserves of R25,3-billion as of March 31 2008, is considering proposals to extend the length of benefits to take account of an expected increase in retrenchments.

UIF data indicates that more people are becoming unemployed for longer periods and that there is an increase in higher income claimants.

The increase in claims, however, is projected to be just 12% in the coming financial years and will be covered by the fund’s income growth.

Due to rising unemployment, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) remains in a precarious financial position with a significant actuarial liability and about 297 000 cases still unprocessed.

The RAF levy will increase by 17,5 cents a litre to 64 cents. This will allow further progress to be made in reducing the claims backlog.

More no-fee schools on the way
Meanwhile, government will increase the number of no-fee schools this year to help poor families, Manuel said.

He said the number of such schools would increase from 40% to 60% of the total.

Education remained the government’s single largest investment, and spreading the no-fee policy a priority.

”Government’s contribution to public education remains our single largest investment, because we know that it is the key to reducing poverty and accelerating long-term economic growth.

”Key priorities in education include extending the no-fee schools policy to 60% of schools, from 40% at present, expanding the school nutrition programme and reducing average class sizes in schools serving low-income communities,” Manuel said.

According to the 2009 Estimates of National Expenditure, the no-fee policy aims to improve resources at the country’s poorest schools, increase access and reduce marginalisation.

”This policy will also extend government’s anti-poverty drive by reducing pressure on poor households to pay school fees,” the document says.

Manuel said spending on education had grown by 14% a year over the past three years.

The Education Department will receive R21,2-billion for its work in 2009.

”An additional R700-million is allocated for higher education subsidies and to accommodate the anticipated growth in student enrolment, from 783 900 last year, to 836 800 in 2011. — Sapa