Without the government’s child support grant many South Africans would be living in dire poverty, according to a study released last week by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg.
The study showed that 82% of Doornkop, Soweto, residents who receive the grant felt it improved the quality of their lives, while the rest said it made no difference to them because — at R260 a month per child — the amount is too small.
The grant is intended to be supplementary support for food security, says Professor Leila Patel, director of the centre. In communities such as Doornkop, where only 13% of residents have regular jobs and 24% rely on piece jobs or on the informal sector, the grant can make all the difference.
Patel believes that uninformed opinions of the grant — that it is abused, that teenagers fall pregnant to access the grant or that people who depend on the grant become lazy and don’t aspire to find work — are misconceptions.
The study shows there is no evidence to support these beliefs. Primary education is free, but in Doornkop homes with children of school-going age the grant money assists with other school-related costs, such as books, uniforms and public transport. “We have to ask whether these accusations are based on observation or popular belief in the media,” says Patel.
The research also shows that a large percentage of fathers who do not live with their children don’t pay maintenance because of the grant. Women who declare an income from maintenance of R2 500 or more a month do not qualify for the child support grant.
Patel believes the maintenance system continues to fail children. “We need to work with men to change their attitudes about responsible fathering.” According to social policy analyst Karen Peters, the grant reached approximately 10-million children in 2009. There are approximately 1.4-million eligible caregivers who are not claiming it. In the 2008/2009 budget the government paid out a total of R22.3-billion in grants.
Thandiwe Zulu, provincial director of the Black Sash, attributes the figures to delays at the department of home affairs and irregularities in official documents.
The child support grant assists in alleviating poverty but Patel believes it is not the only solution. “The grant needs to work with other sectors, such as health, education and transport. Some people might think that the grant is unsustainable because it is costing the government millions, [but in the long term] poverty is unsustainable.”