Short change for a tall order of social development

Institutions such as Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre in Soweto, which cares for children with disabilities, are all feeling the pinch of reduced funding. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Institutions such as Nkanyezi Stimulation Centre in Soweto, which cares for children with disabilities, are all feeling the pinch of reduced funding. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

In an upbeat and enthusiastic speech the new Gauteng MEC for social development, Nandi Mayathula-Khoza (also the MEC for agriculture and rural development) presented the department’s budget in the Gauteng legislature earlier this month.

She outlined positive plans for addressing poverty and vulnerability in the province. She also expressed a commitment to partner with non-profit organisations – on which social welfare service delivery is heavily dependent – having already made concrete efforts to engage with these organisations.
All of this is encouraging, but the problem is that the budget allocated for social development services is nowhere near adequate to meet the pressing needs in the sector.

Mayathula-Khoza has taken on this portfolio at a time when the social welfare service network in Gauteng is in crisis. Many non-profits are poised to cut back their services or close their doors.
Retrenchments are already taking place in alarming numbers.

The Gauteng treasury has, for the current financial year, given social development an increase of only 2% above last year. It is not remotely related to inflation, let alone to the escalation of needs in the community. At 4% the allocation is slightly higher and although it does seem to include support for some new services, there is no increase for the vast majority of organisations – indeed, some have had their funds reduced. Many non-profits are also experiencing a drop in donor funding and getting less or no support from the national lottery.

Most social services in Gauteng  – and much of the rest of the country – are delivered by non-profits. The government relies on these organisations to implement services required by the Bill of Rights, the Children’s Act, the Child Justice Act and the Older Persons Act, as well as those demanded by international human rights agreements. Yet there is no realistic or dependable system in place to ensure that these organisations are adequately funded to perform their functions.

The common belief is that non-profits should be “self-sustaining”, but this is unrealistic. These organisations deal with children, people with disabilities, frail older persons, victims of crime and violence and persons experiencing illness or trauma of many kinds. Services to such people can never be fully sustainable in their own right. They are, however, a vital investment in broader social wellbeing and are essential for the creation of a stable, healthy and sustainable society.

What if the system is under-resourced? Abused children are neglected for long periods and may even die. Frail older people are left destitute or in abusive conditions. People with disabilities remain without care or unable to use what abilities they have to work. Orphaned children are left to raise themselves and their siblings with no support. Children on the street have nowhere to go. Young offenders may become hardened adult criminals, because no one has provided the intervention necessary to turn their lives around. Addicts cannot get treatment. Poor communities in need of services are left unaided.

These consequences in the short and long term are far more costly to society than an improved welfare system. We urgently call on the Gauteng treasury to increase the social development budget to prevent the collapse of essential human services in the province.

Jackie Loffell is the co-ordinator of the Gauteng Welfare, Social Service and Development Forum

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