Since 1994 government has implemented a range of social services to address the country’s triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. These services, especially social grants, have had an extremely positive impact on improving the living standard of numerous households.
Social grants remain government’s main poverty alleviation initiative. The key purpose of a grant such as the child support grant, disability grant, grant for older persons, war veteran's grant, and others, is to ensure that persons living in poverty have a basic income. It also affords dignity to these South Africans by allowing them to meet essential subsistence needs.
The number of South Africans benefitting from grants increased from 2.5 million in 1993 to 16 million by mid-2013. Of these an estimated 11 million are child support grant beneficiaries.
The increased access to grants in the country is further supported by the General Household Survey (GHS) 2012 results, which were released by Statistics South Africa last month. It shows that the percentage of individuals benefitting from social grants increased over time to 29.6 per cent in 2012.
The significance of social grants is especially highlighted by the fact that 39.5 per cent of households interviewed by the GHS, indicated that social grants were their main source of income. They have many benefits for households of which poverty alleviation is probably the most obvious.
Furthermore, the results of the Child Support Grant Impact Assessment (2012) clearly indicate that the child support grant significantly reduces the “six main risky behaviours” which includes sexual activity, pregnancy, alcohol use, drug use, criminal activity and gang membership.
In addition, the assessment shows that the positive developmental impact associated with this type of grant is the promotion of nutritional, education and better health outcomes among children.
More advantages are pointed out by a 2009 FinMark Trust study titled, “The use and effectiveness of social grants in South Africa” which stated that grants empower a recipient’s ability to manage risk and insecurity. In addition, the study found “grant beneficiaries have higher levels of savings, and are able to engage with credit markets on generally more favourable terms”.
Social grants have changed many lives over the last 19 years, with several previous beneficiaries completing schooling; opening small businesses; or securing stable employment.
Nonetheless, there are numerous vulnerable South Africans that are eligible for grants who still have not yet registered to receive them. Among these are 2 million children; this is of great concern to government.
To ensure that our social services reach eligible persons and are accessible, the Department of Social Development recently launched a new service delivery improvement strategy called Project Mikondzo meaning “footprints”. Through this strategy government aims to extend the reach of its social services to every corner of the country.
At the time of the launch, the Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini highlighted the need for a new strategy saying: “The Department is continuously reviewing its service delivery model in order to meet the changing developmental needs of all South Africans, especially the vulnerable groups, including children and youth, older persons, and people living with disabilities.”
To ensure we reach the most destitute in our country, Project Mikondzo will target the 1 300 poorest wards in 23 district municipalities as prioritised by Cabinet. It aims to identify the social service delivery challenges faced by these wards so that government can develop better responses to the needs.
To accomplish this, office-bound officials from DSD and its entities, the National Development Agency (NDA) and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), will join frontline officials to interact with communities to tackle social challenges such as poverty, malnutrition, violence against women and child-headed households.
Minister Dlamini emphasised the importance of these interactions with communities saying: “We do this to improve our responsiveness to the needs of our people and break down the structural barriers created by apartheid that placed government far from people.”
The department is also planning a command centre with a toll-free hotline number which will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This will serve as an additional channel for communities to report challenges.
However, all social service delivery improvements will be informed by engagements with provincial and municipal authorities, councillors, ward committees and social workers.
As we start rolling out Project Mikondzo, government calls on communities, community-based organisations and non-governmental organisations to help us make this a success. This strategy can only reach its desired outcome where communities are actively involved in their own development initiatives. Let’s work together to improve social services in every corner of our country.
Phumla Williams is CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)