Issues raised in Older Persons' Petition: briefing by Department of Social Development; Committee Legacy Report

Social Development

10 March 2014
Chairperson: Ms Y Botha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The presentation covered the background to the Older Persons Act, the objectives and legislative framework of the Act, and areas that needed improvement.   The Act envisaged dealing effectively with the plight of older persons by establishing a framework aimed at the empowerment and protection of older persons, and at the promotion and maintenance of their status, rights, well-being, safety and security.  Other main objects of the Act were to shift the emphasis from institutional care to community-based care, in order to ensure that older persons remain in their homes within the community for as long as possible; to regulate the registration, establishment and management of services and the establishment and management of residential facilities for older persons; and to combat the abuse of older persons.

The older person’s grant (OPG) played an important role in poverty alleviation. Many recipients had previously worked as domestic servants, farm workers or other low income occupations, earning less than R1 200 pre-retirement. The grant served as income security for many beneficiaries, as their employment had not provided benefits such as a pension or provident fund.  Grants were used mainly to buy food for the entire family, and often to support larger households, particularly children.  The current policy proposal included universalisation of the Old Age Grant, which could be designed to be tax neutral.  About a quarter of formally employed individuals had no access to retirement benefits. These workers were either working for small employers, or were contract workers. Private provisions were often costly for these employees, as they did not benefit from cross-subsidisation or cost sharing. Retirement benefits were complex and often not portable.  Retirees often had to buy annuities, and they did not understand the annuity market. Individuals often did not preserve their retirement savings when they resigned from their employers. Most benefits were on a defined contribution arrangement. These benefits were dependent on investment performance.  In the case of a low investment performance, retirees risked not having enough savings in retirement.

Challenges included a lack of support to working age people whom the elderly needed to support. Often children were left with their elderly family members by their parents.  There were also challenges with other service provisions, the low to middle income dilemma, the absence of mandatory retirement provisions and fragmentation in delivery on social protection.  Solutions put forward had included a push to universalise the old age pension; the introduction of a mandatory retirement system; uniform benefits to allow for the portability of benefits; an increase in preservation funds and lower costs for annuities, with common rates for annuities.

Discussion covered grants-in-aid, the monitoring of services to old persons, the shortage of social workers, interventions at urban and rural levels, the involvement of HEAL, the need to communicate with those who could not read and write, cooperation between departments, the veteran social worker programme, the Old Person’s Desk, and a possible “basket of services” -- covering housing and health -- for the elderly.

Meeting report

Presentation on Areas to Improve Services to Older Persons

Mr Coceko Pakade, Director General of the Department, said these matters were a priority area in the strategic plan, and were close to the heart of the Minister and Deputy Minister.  There was a need to protect vulnerable groups from instances of insecurity.  He assured the Committee there would be a realisation of the rights espoused within the Constitution.  The presentation would look to what the government had done. 

Mr Jackie Mbonani, Chief Director: Welfare Services, said the Older Persons Act, 2006 had envisaged dealing effectively with the plight of older persons by establishing a framework aimed at the empowerment and protection of older persons, and at the promotion and maintenance of their status, rights, well-being, safety and security.

Other main objects of the Act were to:

 • shift the emphasis from institutional care to community- based care, in order to ensure that older persons remain in their homes within the community for as long as possible;

• regulate the registration, establishment and management of services and the establishment and management of residential facilities for older persons; and

• combat the abuse of older persons.

The Act tried to ensure that older people stayed in their homes and communities as long as possible, as there were a number of people who set up facilities for older people, and there was abuse of older persons, as well as processes.

The Department had a constitutional mandate to provide income support (social assistance) to those who did not have sufficient social security provision for old age. The provision of social grants was guided by the Constitution, national legislation and regulations, and various international instruments. Various studies had revealed that social grants, in particularly the Older Persons’ Grants (OPG), were one of the most effective strategies employed in minimising poverty.  Often, however, the grant was used to meet the needs of an entire family, given the high rate of unemployment, and the lack of income support for the unemployed.

In terms of services given to older persons, there had been a number of initiatives.  These included the  Prevention and Combat of Abuse, Neglect and Violence of Older Persons, which promoted and protected the rights of older persons, and dealt effectively with elder abuse; a shift from residential care and focus on Community Based Care and Support Services (CBCSS); a safe environment and provision of quality life for frail older persons in Residential Care Facilities; creating an enabling and supportive environment, in which opportunities of full development of potential and active participation of older persons on their issues were provided: and  awareness campaigns and access to information to older persons and communities

Mr Mbonani identified areas that were needed to improve services to older persons. The objective had been to ensure the establishment and strengthening of governing structures for older persons.  It had been noted that there had been a lack of involvement of older persons in their own issues, as well as the involvement of other government departments on issues affecting older persons.

The planned actions were to establish Desks for Older Persons, to advocate for involvement and budgeting of other departments, including premiers’ offices (coordinating services), to appoint focal persons in all Premiers offices -- including a focal person at the Presidency -- and have a monitoring committee at the Presidency to monitor all government departments . The Department also planned to have an integrated plan of action to enable older persons to live safely, with thr emphasis on housing, public transport and health

The progress had been made.  Guidelines had been developed and a workshop held with officials from the office of premiers in all the provinces.  Desks for Older Persons had been established and were in operation in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West, Mpumalanga, Western Cape and Gauteng.  Government departments had submitted reports to the Presidency, committing their departments to the services they would be providing to older persons, and to reporting on a regular basis to the Office of the President. The Madrid Plan of Action was in place, detailing the roles and responsibilities of various departments and stakeholders.

He said that the outcome identified had been improved protection and quality of life for older persons, with national, provincial and local forums for older persons

The planned actions were to utilise provincial forums and older persons’ clubs to mobilise members for the establishment of local representative forums.   Forums would be established to ensure older persons were involved in addressing their own issues. There was a plan to ensure the funding of provincial forums that had not been receiving funding from government.  The outcome identified was improved protection and quality of life for older persons. The planned actions were to facilitate the development of the Older Persons Electronic Register and fund a National Prevention of Elder Abuse Line.

There had been progress, as a system had been developed and training of users was already under way.  Six provinces were being trained and a plan was in place to complete training by March 2014, for full implementation. There had been funding of the non-government organisation, HEAL. There had also been linkage with the establishment of the Prevention of Gender Based Hotline.

Mr Brenton van Vrede, Chief Director of Social Assistance for the Department, presented a study on the causes of poverty in old age, saying the older person’s grant (OPG) played an important role in poverty alleviation. Many recipients had previously worked as domestic servants, farm workers or other low income occupations, earning less than R1 200 pre-retirement. The grant served as income security for many beneficiaries, as their employment had not provided benefits such as a pension or provident fund.  Grants were used mainly to buy food for the entire family, and often to support larger households, particularly children. The grant was also used pay health expenses for the family, regardless of free health care at public health care facilities.  Other expenditure had been cited by respondents to include DSTV, reduced license tariffs and municipal services, and pocket money for grandchildren

The current policy proposal included universalisation of the Old Age Grant, which could be designed to be tax neutral. There were also retirement reforms, which included restructuring of intergenerational transfers. The main issue from the petition involved the middle income earners, who do not have an earnings-related pension.

Mr Van Vrede spoke about the inadequacy of benefits.  About a quarter of formally employed individuals had no access to retirement benefits. These workers were either working for small employers, or were contract workers. Private provisions were often costly for these employees, as they did not benefit from cross-subsidisation or cost sharing. Retirement benefits were complex and often not portable.  There was little risk sharing and these benefits could sometimes be costly when it came to risk benefits. Retirees often had to buy annuities, and they did not understand the annuity market. Individuals often did not preserve their retirement savings when they resigned from their employers. Most benefits were on a defined contribution arrangement. These benefits were dependent on investment performance.  In the case of a low investment performance, retirees risked not having enough savings in retirement.

He described provident funds and annuities.  Provident funds paid a lump sum, while pension funds paid monthly pensions. The lump sum payments were usually consumed quickly, leaving retirees in poverty once their funds were depleted.  Annuities were often too expensive, especially for women. The longer one was expected to live, the lower their monthly income. The difference between living and life annuities was often not understood. Living annuities were often depleted quickly, as one was allowed to withdraw up to 17% of the fund in one year. Life annuities generally paid lower amounts, and were guaranteed for a period.  Most people opted for living annuities and ran out of funds quickly.

The State Old Age Pension (SOAP) was means tested and asset tested. Those with assets sometimes did not qualify for the grant, so some people sold off their assets in older to qualify. This had been known to happen. Those with incomes above the threshold did not qualify for the grant. The system was seen as rewarding those who did not save and penalising those who did. Sometimes individuals “had to” draw down their savings in order to qualify for SOAP.

Challenges included a lack of support to working age people whom the elderly needed to support. Often children were left with their elderly family members by their parents.  There were also challenges with other service provisions, the low to middle income dilemma, the absence of mandatory retirement provisions and fragmentation in delivery on social protection.

Solutions put forward had included a push to universalise the old age pension; the introduction of a mandatory retirement system; uniform benefits to allow for the portability of benefits; an increase in preservation funds and lower costs for annuities, with common rates for annuities.

Mr Van Vrede said there were various programmes, policies and pieces of legislation that had been developed and implemented by government departments to deliver services to all age groups, including older persons. However, these services were not integrated, and did not always specifically target the needs of older persons. There was a need to strengthen intersectoral collaboration through an integrated forum of key departments and stakeholders. In terms of the Older Persons Act (Act 13 of 2006), each government department had a specific responsibility and role to play on issues affecting older persons. This had not been forthcoming from some of the departments in the coordination and integration of service delivery. The National Development Plan, in its reference to the provision of social protection services to the most vulnerable members of society, which included the older persons, also stressed that coordination was essential in the delivery of such services.

Mr Pakade said that when South Africans grew old and reached retirement age, they often did not have the sort of protection the Constitution sought to provide, as they did not have the support and economic resources needed to maintain their lives.  The issue government was grappling with was how to ensure that other members of the family did not become a burden on the older leaders. The Minister had gone throughout the country highlighting the issues that faced children and older people, even those within civil society and religious organisations.

Discussion

The Chairperson said the presentation was good because it showed what government was doing to protect the rights of older persons.  At a recent meeting, the Deputy Minister had said she would work with other stakeholders to work with older persons.

The Chairperson asked for more information on the Grant In Aid.

The Regional Director of SASSA replied that a Grant in Aid was paid in addition to the old age or disability grant, and was for those who needed extra assistance. It amounted to an extra R350.

Ms N Khunou (ANC) asked why there had been limited monitoring of services to older persons?

Mr Mbonani replied that the challenge with monitoring of services was due to the expansion of services to older people. That was why there had been talk of registration of facilities, so that not every “Tom, Dick and Harry” could open up a facility.

Ms Khunou said that Parliamentary Constituency Offices (PCOs) could be used to ensure consultation within communities was fast tracked.

Ms Xaba said that it had been reported that there was a shortage of social workers, but she had the names of social workers who had graduated and were now sitting idle. Why was this the case?

Mr Mbonani replied that social workers were not specialising, and that was why it had been said that there was a shortage. They had not been trained in this area -- they were still being spread out across various fields.  There was work that had been done with NGOs to find placements for social workers, but more the matter would have to be looked into further.

Ms Xaba said many of these programmes were in urban areas, but consideration needed to be given to where the issues really were.  Communities should be engaged so people could see how deep the issues were.   There was a need to work together in order to give and receive information.   

Mr Mbonani replied it was the way of government that worked. Programmes were always started in urban areas, but then linkages were made with those in rural areas. For example, when there had been instances of abuse in the Eastern Cape, the Department had been there in response, educating the older people themselves about their rights on the issue. The Minister was pushing for structures to be built there, but this was far from being done. Within KwaZulu Natal, a complete structure had been built and other provinces were benchmarking on that.

Ms Xaba asked about HEAL, and what role it played in the activities of the Department within the provinces.

Mr Mbonani replied that they worked with another organisation and HEAL to get the information they needed.

Ms H Makhuba (IFP) asked about people who could not read and right, and whether it would hinder them from getting government assistance?

A representative from the Department replied that community radio had been the used. A large amount of communication was direct, and editorials had been produced in the languages that people understood, so people knew what the Department was doing.

Mr M Waters (DA) asked which departments were not cooperating and what steps were being taken in order to ensure that there was cooperation.

Mr Mbonani replied that the Department took responsibility for the lack of cohesion. The Department was working on building up the structure at municipalities.   It was not so much an issue of non-cooperation between departments, but rather having the structures to work with.

Mr Waters asked what was being done about improving old age homes.

Mr Mbonani replied there was progress.   However, it needed to be said that many of the homes did not belong to the government, so getting money to renovate was challenging. Instances where the structure had been identified as unfit had resulted in their being closed down and the elderly moved to other facilities, or even reunited with their families or relatives. Some provinces were using their grants in order to fix those issues that had been identified.  It was not an easy process.  There was still a challenge where people in some communities wanted to push their older people to those facilities, rather than care for them.

Mr Waters asked if more could be said about putting people on a register, to mark them as unfit to deal with elderly people.  Did the court have to make a decision as to whether they would appear on the register?   How was this information fed to the Department?

Mr Mbonani said this was a big issue, and the Department was learning from the Child Protection Register. There had been full engagement with the Department of Justice in order to tackle this issue.

Mr Waters asked how many social workers were needed in order for the veteran social worker programme to be properly implemented

Mr Mbonani replied that the Department had engaged in benchmarking, and had worked out an approximate number. However, they had not finalised the generic norms and standards of the Department, which would give the final number. The number being worked with had been formulated through bench marking and looking at various areas.  Once processes had been finalised, then a proper figure could be given.

Ms E More (DA) said the Department had spoken about the old person’s desk in relation to only three provinces.   What had been done in terms of the other provinces?

Mr Mbonani replied that KwaZulu Natal had been the benchmark for structures, including the Old Person’s desk.  There was movement in various provinces to launch the older persons’ desks.

Ms More asked how far had the Older Persons Act gone in terms of implementation?   She wanted to know what was going to be done in terms of ensuring adherence.   Lack of implementation was a problem that plagued government.   How would the integrated plans of government for the elderly be done in an innovative way?

Mr R Bhoola (MF) said that the elderly had toiled and worked for this country and needed to be treated with respect.  He asked if the money given to those who were physically challenged or bed-ridden, was paid into the care giver’s account or to the beneficiary?   He suggested looking at a ‘basket of services’ for the elderly, such as housing and health?

Mr Pakade replied that a basket of goods was not within the Department’s mandate, but it was something that the Department looked into, to make sure that the mandate was fulfilled. There had been various initiatives that sought to bring together various issues.

Mr Bhoola asked what the thinking was behind the widows and widowers grant.  At an advanced age, some elderly people lost their partners and would go in search for jobs and become demoralised.

Mr Bhoola said he had heard there were petitions pertaining to certain departments within the Western Cape. Had this been a case of dissemination of a mandate at national level not being implemented at provincial level?

Mr Mbonani replied that it was not necessarily the case that provinces were not adhering to mandates.  It was just that there were a number of challenges to be considered.

The Chairperson said there needed to be further engagement with the Western Cape on services for older persons, because the people who had given the petition were from the Western Cape. There possibly needed to be more localised engagement on the matter.

The Chairperson said that the Department had responded to the issues in the memorandum.  She proposed that three staff members from the Committee should draw up a report, and then the Committee would review and adopt it.

Adoption of minutes

The minutes were adopted.

Adoption of Legacy Report

It was decided the Legacy Report would be adopted at the next meeting. 

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