Social grants beneficiaries more than doubled in 10 years

The number of South Africans who benefit from social grants has more than doubled from 12.7% to 30.2% over the past 10 years. 

This is according to the General Household Survey published by Statistics South Africa on Wednesday, which has surveyed private households across all nine provinces in the country from January to December last year. 

At the same time, the percentage of households in South Africa that received at least one grant increased from 30% in 2003 to 45.5% in 2013. This represented an almost ongoing increase, with one slight dip of 1.7 percentage points in 2012. 

The report came less than 24 hours after President Jacob Zuma delivered the first State of the Nation Address of his second term, in which he highlighted the attention that the government had given to poverty-stricken citizens over the last two decades. 

“Over the past 20 years, we have steadily expanded support for marginalised and vulnerable households through investments in housing, extension to our social grants programmes and improved access to education and primary health care,” said Zuma. 

“Over the period ahead, poverty reduction will continue to be reinforced.”

Grant beneficiaries
The survey highlighted traditionally poorer provinces’ continued dependence on government grants: those with lower economic output per capita had the highest percentage of grant beneficiaries; and more than 40% of individuals in Eastern Cape benefited from grants last year, followed closely by Limpopo with 38.7%, KwaZulu-Natal with 37.2% and Northern Cape with 35%. 

In contrast, only 17.3% of individuals in Gauteng, the country’s wealthiest province by gross domestic product (GDP) per person, were grant recipients and 21% of individuals in the Western Cape benefited from the aid programmes.

There were also clear discrepancies along racial lines, with more than one-third (34%) of black African individuals in the country receiving grants and 24% of coloured individuals, while half of that amount (12%) in the Asian populace received grants, and only 5% of the white population.    

Even though social grant recipients increased significantly over the 10-year period, the percentage of the population enrolled in education remained at almost exactly the same level. 

According to the survey, almost three-quarters (73.5%) of South Africans aged between five and 24 were attending educational institutions, which was 0.1 percentage point lower than a decade ago. 

Peak school ages
But the report notes that the attendance of children in the “peak ages” of seven to 16 years is now “almost universal”. A shortage of funds remains the biggest reason cited for dropouts. 

“More than one quarter (25.3%) of premature school leavers in this age group mentioned ‘a lack of money’ as the reason for not studying,” says the report. “The comparable figure is as high as 45% in KwaZulu-Natal.” 

The survey was released on the same day that Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation statistics for May were published. The numbers spelled out more income pressure for the consumer, with headline CPI inflation at 6.6%. The figure was 0.5 percentage points higher than the previous month, and slightly exceeded most analysts’ expectations. Most noticeably, it represented another upper breach to the Reserve Bank’s target inflation band of 3% to 6%, which means a heightened possibility for reactive monetary policy decisions in the next few months to keep increases in check.

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Thalia Holmes
Thalia Holmes

Thalia is a freelance business reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She grew up in Swaziland and lived in the US before returning to South Africa.

She got a cum laude degree in marketing and followed it with another in English literature and psychology before further confusing things by becoming a black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) consultant.

After spending five years hearing the surprised exclamation, "But you're white!", she decided to pursue her latent passion for journalism, and joined the M&G in 2012. 

The next year, she won the Brandhouse Journalist of the Year Award, the Brandhouse Best Online Award and was chosen as one of five finalists from Africa for the German Media Development Award. In 2014, she and a colleague won the Standard Bank Sivukile Multimedia Award. 

She now writes and edits for various publications, but her heart still belongs to the M&G.     

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