State budget short-changes victims of domestic violence
The budget speech delivered this week by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was met with mixed reactions: the Democratic Alliance expressed concern over proposed tax increases, citing a preference for spending cuts; the Economic Freedom Fighters were positive about increased allocations to social protection but felt the policy statement was not supportive of “radical economic transformation” (EFF statement, 23 February 2017); trade union Cosatu sought a more comprehensive articulation of government’s job creation commitment; and the support to higher education was largely perceived as lacklustre. However, stakeholders working to combat gender-based violence (GBV) contend that one question remains unanswered: to what extent does the 2017/18 budget reflect government’s commitment to effectively meet the true costs associated with addressing violence against women and children?
Social development was allocated a total of R180-billion (or 11% of the total budget) for the next fiscal year. In all probability, consistent with previous years, GBV interventions will receive a mere portion of the 10% the Department of Social Development (DSD) allocates to social welfare programmes exclusive of social welfare grants (Vetten, 2017). This is deeply concerning given South Africa’s high rates of gender-based violence, with an estimated three women dying every day as a result of intimate partner violence (Medical Research Council, 2012). The impacts of GBV are moreover, extensive, with effects extending beyond the parties directly involved, as highlighted in the KPMG report, “Too costly to ignore – the economic impact of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa”, which estimates that between 0.9 and 1.3% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (i.e. R24- to 42-billion) is required to meet the costs associated with GBV.
Government’s acknowledgement of GBV-response as a clear policy imperative was underscored by President Zuma’s commitment, during last year’s 16 Days of Activism, “to use all resources at its disposal, to make the country safer for women and children”. However, we are yet to see this rhetoric translated into adequate budgetary support for victims of domestic violence who all too frequently are compelled to flee their homes in pursuit of the safety proffered by shelters. Recent research by the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (NSM) and the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) shows that the sustainability of shelters across the country is severely compromised by government’s failure to effectively fund and support shelters for abused women and children.
Practical and psychosocial costs of shelter provision
The research undertaken by NSM and HBS with the funding support of the European Union indicates that victims of domestic violence who seek sheltering – disproportionately women and their children – have significant needs. The research, which seeks to determine the extent to which shelters are able to meet these needs with current government funding allocations, found that all shelter residents who experienced intimate partner violence required protracted health and psychosocial care to assist them to heal from the effects of the abuse.
Legal support, ranging from assistance in applying for protection orders, following up on domestic violence cases, divorce applications, applications for official documentation (e.g. identity documents, child birth certificates) including the replacement of such documents in cases where victims had to flee abusive relationships abruptly, was another critical intervention sought by shelter residents. The children accompanying their mothers to shelters were also found to have a myriad of health and psychosocial needs, in addition to typically also requiring school-related assistance, such as for example school transfers, transportation to and from school, the acquisition of uniforms, textbooks, stationery, meals, etc.
What exacerbates the vulnerability of victims of GBV is that the majority of women are unemployed and have little to no income when entering the shelter. Consequently, shelters, the majority of which are run by non-profit organisations, have to meet most of the costs associated with the provision of sheltering, including day-to-day needs such as food and clothing, as well as the medical, psychosocial and legal services among others, outlined above.
State funding of shelters
Funding for sheltering and related services is overwhelmingly provided by the DSD, generally as either the main or sole funder. Such funds tend to be allocated to operational costs, calculated in terms of a unit rate per bed or per woman per day, with a marginal contribution to staff salaries, and facility maintenance and security. Thus, for example, DSD’s contribution to a shelter in the Western Cape is R49 per person per day, which in principle should cover resident’s food, accommodation and other day-to-day expenses. However, if we were to allocate this sum solely to meals (i.e. not considering the costs associated to electricity, toiletries, transportation and so forth) this R49 per day translates to a total of R16 per meal. This is hardly reasonable considering that the operational costs of running this shelter exceed the funding from DSD by 55%. It should be noted, however, that daily unit rates are not consistent across shelters: at one shelter in KwaZulu-Natal for example, the DSD unit rate is R63. While this figure may initially appear to be more reasonable than that of the Western Cape, closer inspection of the funding agreement reveals that this daily unit rate is for women only, i.e. R63 per woman per day whether or not they are accompanied by children.
In such circumstances, shelters have to secure alternative funding to cover the shortfall, in order to meet the costs of children residing with their mothers. Considering that in some shelters, the shelter’s only social worker is also the shelter manager, finding enough time in a day to provide psychosocial support to their clients and conduct outreach (another DSD mandate) and raise funds is virtually impossible.
One notable element of DSD funding is that it does contribute towards the salaries of some shelter staff (social workers, care workers and the like). However, shelter staff remuneration is significantly below the industry standard, even falling vastly short of what the department pays its own staff.
The salary of an entry level (no work experience) social worker at the Western Cape DSD is between R211 263 and R244 908 per annum; the same department subsidises NGO social worker salaries (not restricted to entry level) at a rate of R167 321 per annum. While there is a marked difference between the salaries of state vs. NGO-shelter social workers, there are shelters whose staff members earn even more dismal salaries. In Mpumalanga, our research found that in some shelters care workers and housemothers, those who provide imperative daily support and care to women and their children, earned a meagre R1 800 per month.
The situation is even more dire in the Free State: at one shelter, social workers are paid R3 000 on a part-basis while full-time staff members such as the shelter manager earn R1 250 per month (i.e. R41 per day or R5 per hour) and their housemother a measly R600 (i.e. R19 per day or R2 per hour). The shelter has not been able to source alternative forms of funding to increase salaries. The new National Minimum Wage of R3 500 is due to come into effect in mid-2017: whether this commitment will lead to an increase in state funding allocations to the salaries of NGO workers remains to be seen.
A further finding of the NSM/HBF research indicates that where government funding is provided, payments are often late. This has significant ramifications not only for organisations’ operational stability but also the sustainability of services intended for their beneficiaries. Shelter managers in Mpumalanga revealed that when funding subsidies were late, particularly where shelters did not have access to alternative sources of funding or donations, shelter staff used their own resources or took out loans to ensure that shelter residents had food to eat.
Another invariable consequence of delays in the disbursement of state funds to NGO service providers was a delay in the payment of shelter staff salaries. The serious ramifications of this on the lives of staff and their families go without saying. It also has an adverse effect on staff morale; hence it is unsurprising that shelters experience significant difficulties in retaining qualified staff, further undermining the rights of GBV victims to the appropriate care and support.
Requiring holistic, well-costed strategies
In 2011, national DSD released a Policy on Financial Awards to service providers, which is premised on the assumption that the department is not the sole funder of social welfare services, and that non-profit organisations delivering said services are capable of securing funds – from the private sector and other donor agencies – to meet any shortfalls. Our research found that while shelters expend considerable effort in their attempts to mobilise the resources needed to meet their resident’s many needs, some are simply unable to do so to the extent required to ensure their sustainability.
The inability of some shelters to provide their residents with skills development training (a requisite component of sheltering as outlined in DSD’s minimum norms and standards) was another impediment to their livelihood prospects. Hence the economic vulnerability of many women persists once they leave the shelter, which coupled with an inability to access affordable or alternative means of housing often leaves them with no alternative but to return to their abusive partners. And the cycle of abuse continues.
The KPMG study mentioned earlier recommends an inter-sectoral funding model to more effectively address the comprehensive nature of GBV-related impacts through improved coordination, budgeting and implementation of national response efforts. Our recommendations are consistent with this: while the DSD has overall responsibility for the provision of sheltering services for abused women, a multi-departemental approach, in order to synergise the roles and contributions of different government role-players, is required. This would ultimately ensure a more comprehensive, holistic, sustainable and effective strategy backed up by the requisite budgets to address the true costs of GBV on women and children.
About the Authors
All three writers work in their respective capacities to support the EU-funded HBF and the NSM project “Enhancing State Responsiveness to GBV: Paying the True Costs”.
Claudia Lopes is a project manager at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, specialising in women’s rights activism, with a particular focus on violence against women. Nokukhanya (Khanya) Mncwabe is a project assistant at the Heinrich Böll Foundation and a researcher and human rights advocate. Chiedza Chagutah is a project co-ordinator at the National Shelter Movement and a researcher who has previously focused on gender and violent masculinities in Africa.