In its public hearings on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill [B2 -2018], the Portfolio Committee heard submissions from: Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office; Black Sash , Centre for Child Law; Children in Distress (CINDI); Children’s Institute and Ms Nonhlanhla Nkwanyana.
The Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office welcomed the Bill but was concerned about destitute people who could not access assistance due to there being no social assistance for people between the ages 18 to 59.
Black Sash noted that there was a 32% increase in the number of grant recipients, numbering about 18 million and this statistic was coupled with the high unemployment rate of 40% and so it welcomed the Bill. It provided recommendations including the establishment of an inspectorate that functions independently from both SASSA and the Department as a government component. It reminded the Committee that the country had to report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by October 2020 on the country’s progress in implementing the UN Committee’s recommendations, including the recommendation relating the lack of social assistance for people between the ages of 18 to 59 years.
Ms Nkwenyana, an educator, stated that the Bill would bring dignity to the lives of disadvantaged community members but highlighted that there was a need for government to focus more on ensuring children were in school and getting an education. . She expressed concerns that some of the grant recipients were using the money for alcohol and other luxuries.
The Centre for Child Law noted the huge strain on the current Foster Care system which caused social workers to be overloaded and preventing them for helping children who had been abused or neglected. The CSG Top-Up will be a slightly lesser amount than the FCG. To prevent the reform being regressive, children already receiving the FCG should continue to receive it, while new applicants should be referred to the new CSG Top-Up Children in the foster care system would then gradually reduce to only those in ‘need of care and protection’. If the CSG Top-Up is designed effectively, it amounts to a progressive step for orphans. Key considerations to ensure it is not regressive are:
• The CSG Top-Up amount must not be too low
• All those eligible for the FCG must become eligible for the CSG Top-Up
• The system must be designed to be ‘inclusive’ rather than ‘exclusive’ so requirements such as production of documentation proving orphan status must not be too stringent
The Children’s Institute welcomed the Bill and explained their understanding of the concept of a Top Up to the Child Support Grant. If designed effectively, this reform could ensure the majority of orphans living with relatives are able to access an adequate social grant, quickly and without interruption. It would help reduce the strain on the Foster Care system, improving the response of the child protection system for abused and neglected children. Its submission advised the Committee to request the Minister to provide clarity on the details she intended to prescribe via government notice or regulation as the success or failure of the reform lay in these details. The Institute’s submission provided research to consider when designing the details of the grant, in particular:
• which children will be eligible for the ‘top-up’
• how many children will be eligible
• what ‘documents’ caregivers will need to provide to prove eligibility
• the amount of the top-up
Members asked from where the budget would come for the CSG Top Up and how much it would-be. They asked for the qualifying criteria and for clarity on the definitions ‘double orphan’ and ‘single orphan’.
The Chairperson in his opening remarks said that the Committee would have to help the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), along with the SA Post Office (SAPO), to fulfil its role .
The Chairperson proposed that the submissions be heard first, reserving the last part of the meeting for MPs to comment and ask questions.
Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office submission
Ms Lois Law, presenting for the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference, stated that the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office welcomed the opportunity to comment on this important Bill as the access of the vulnerable to appropriate social assistance was an important concern for the Church.
She said the proposed amendment would bring the Act in line with the Disaster Management Act of 2002 and that greater co-ordination of services would result in a quicker response period, and timely delivery of the appropriate equipment and medical supplies, as well as food and water.
While welcoming that social grant recipients would be able to request extra payments if they suffered a disaster, the Office was concerned about the huge numbers of people in the country (notably those between the ages of 18 and 59) who did not qualify for any of the social grants but who nevertheless were destitute.
She emphasised that there had been little effort to deal with the crisis in the foster care system where the needs of children in need of care and protection had been merged with children who were in what was, essentially, kinship foster care.
Quoting the words of Pope Francis from November 2019 about "building a culture capable of combating indifference”, there was a need to react with compassion towards those in distress. The effects of climate change, environmental degradation, rapid urbanisation and population growth contributed to an expected increase in the number and severity of emergency events, emphasising that these could have been avoided with better planning and foresight. There was a desperate need for an integrated approach to community services and one hoped the proposed amendments would do much to facilitate that.
Black Sash submission
Ms Hoodah Fayker-Abrahams, Black Sash National Advocacy Manager, noted that the response time set for the submission of written submissions was too short and it limited civil society’s ability to comment on the amendments and this was evidenced by the only six submissions that were received.
She said there was a 32% increase in the number of grant recipients, numbering above 18.1 million and the majority of the population was poor. South Africa had an unemployment rate of 40% and this caused the need for people to be given social security as stipulated in Section 27(1)(c) of the Constitution.
She stated that in terms of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the state had to report to ICESCR on what it had done to implement the UN Committee recommendations made in 2018 and this report was to be submitted by October 2020. One of the four priority recommendations that the UN has requested a report on by October 2020, include the need to address the lack of social assistance for poor people between the ages of 18 and 59.
Black Sash supported the amendment allowing the Minister, in concurrence with the Minister of Finance, to make additional payments, but requested that guidelines be set for the Minister’s authority.
Black Sash understood the rationale for removing the internal reconsideration by SASSA to instead appeal directly to the Independent Tribunal for a grant application review. However, it was concerned about the infrastructure and capacity of the Tribunal; asking how people in other provinces would be served if appeals were channelled to the Gauteng Office. It supported the establishment of an inspectorate that functions independently from both SASSA and the Department as a government component. SASSA and SAPO or any third party must submit regular performance reports on fraud and corruption and ensure that the national grant payment system database is protected and not used for commercial gain.
Black Sash generally supported the proposals but the Committee would have to work towards compliance with the ICESCR recommendations by the October 2020 deadline.
She requested consideration of the ILO social protection policy including basic income security for children for access to nutrition, for persons in active age unable to earn sufficient income and in old age. She said there were further amendments needed in line with the findings by the High Level Panel Report on the Assessment of Key Legislation and Acceleration of Fundamental Change.
Centre for Child Law submission
Ms Zita Hansungule of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, stated that their submission would be limited to clause 4 of the Social Assistance Amendment Bill. There was a huge strain on the foster care system due to the exponential increase in the number of children entering the foster care system which caused the children’s courts and social workers to have big caseloads and the system was unable to cope.
She pointed to the delay by the Ministry in preparing and introducing amending legislation in Parliament to produce a comprehensive legal solution. This delay in putting in place the necessary mechanism to implement the legal solution was unconstitutional given the 2011 North Gauteng High court order. The declaration of unconstitutional conduct against the Minister had been suspended again until November 2020.
She stated that the Social Assistance Bill allowed the Minister to provide a top up to the Child Support grant such that Children who were cared for by relatives needed to be diverted to the Child Support Grant Top Up as opposed to being placed in foster are and registered for the Foster Care Grant. She said that the CSG Top Up would be slightly less than the Foster Care Grant, and therefore government needed to ensure that the system was not regressive by ensuring that more children could access the CSG Top-Up than are currently able to access the FCG, and that the requirements were not too stringent that they resulted in excluding eligible children
Children’s Institute submission
Ms Paula Proudlock of the Children’s Institute based at the University of Cape Town, stated that the Institute had the aim of drawing attention and seeking sustainable solutions to the key challenges of poverty, violence, and inequality facing children in South Africa across a range of sectors.
She highlighted three major problems with the foster care system:
• The majority of orphaned children in the care of relatives were not able to access the foster child grant (FCG), despite being legally eligible in terms of the Children’s Act.
• There were delays of two to three years for the children who qualify for the Foster Care Grant to receive it
• The foster care case load was overcrowding the work of social workers who were not able to deal with their other cases, including cases of child abuse and neglect.
The Children’s Institute supports the concept of a CSG Top-Up as provided for in the Bill. It views this as one of three components needed for a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care crisis. The second component is prevention and early intervention programmes for families caring for orphans including grief counselling and parent support groups for example for an elderly caregiver caring for a difficult teenager. These programmes are already provided for in the Children’s Act but budget allocation is a problem. The third component is granting jurisdiction to the children’s court to hear guardianship applications by relatives caring for orphaned and abandoned children. The draft Children’s Amendment Bill already includes an amendment to make this possible. Ms Proudlock explained to the Committee that a caregiver or foster parent cannot take important actions or decisions on the child’s behalf because they do not have legal guardianship, for example they cannot apply for a copy of the child’s birth certificate or administer the child’s inheritance. With regards to the CSG Top-Up, a complementary amendment was needed in the Children’s Act (s150 (1) (a)), to be in line with the Social Assistance Bill so as to avoid an urban bias from occurring. If the Children’s Act was not amended, then individual social workers and magistrates would have discretion to decide which orphan received a CSG Top-Up and which one received the larger FCG. Due to a lack of social workers and magistrates in rural areas, those in urban areas were more likely to get the higher grant.
Ms Proudlock alerted the Committee to the fact that it was delegating its legislative function to the Minister to decide on the details of the CSG Top-Up including who was eligible and what the amount would be. These details will determine whether the reform is effective and progressive. Because the amount was going to be lower than the FCG, it was important that the other features of the grant such as the eligibility criteria and requirements for proof, were not in accessible to the majority of orphans; otherwise the reform could amount to regressive action which is prohibited by the Constitution.
Dr Katharine Hall of the Children’s Institute continued by providing the Committee with analysis that the CI had done on the number of children who should be eligible for the CSG Top Up in relation to the FCG.
From 2002, there was a policy change where the Minister encouraged relatives caring for orphaned children to apply for foster care. The foster care case load started increasing rapidly and became the main workload of social workers, preventing them from delivering other welfare services. By 2010 there were more than 500 000 children in foster care. The system could not keep up with the need for regular assessment and review by social workers, and court orders were not renewed. As a result, children’s FCGs started lapsing in large numbers.
She provided the Committee with statistics on the total number of orphans in South Africa - there were approximately 450 000 children who were double orphans, meaning that both parents are deceased and approximately 1 000 000 children where single orphaned, however only 174 000 of them are likely to be abandoned by their other parent and living with a relative. The CSG top up should be provided to children who were orphaned or abandoned and living in the care of a relative.
The Chairperson interjected and asked for the legal meaning of orphan according to the Amendment Bill.
Dr Hall quoted the Children’s Act definition which stated that an ‘orphan’ was defined as a child who had no surviving parents caring for them.
The Chairperson said that Dr Hall was out of time as it was important that all have the chance to present their submissions. She could continue with the Children's Institute recommendations (see document) after the other submissions during the Committee's question time..
Ms M Sukers (ACDP) suggested that the organisations should reserve time to make recommendations as those were important for the Committee.
The Chairperson agreed but said it was also important for the public to make their own presentation as the Committee was not supposed to tell them what to do. However, indeed, Ms Sukers’ point was valid.
Dr Hall continued briefly to outline the challenges relating to the documents that could be requested as proof of orphanhood (see page 15 of the submission). These included that approximately 500 000 children in SA did not have birth certificates and the majority were South African citizens, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) did not have birth certificates for 1 million children of school going age, and over 60% of children whose births are registered do not have their father’s details on their birth register.
Ms Nkwenyana submission
Ms Nonhlanhla Nkwenyana, an educator, stated that she supported the Bill, as this would improve the lives of South Africans and give dignity to people from disadvantaged communities.
She said that it was important to encourage children to get educated and not rush to social assistance. However, the child support grant was important for helping those who had no parents caring for them and for this reason she was in support of the Bill.
Her wish was that everyone involved in the development of the Bill would read the Constitution. There was a reduction needed in the number of child headed households. It was important for disabled persons not to be excluded in the Bill as they were the ones needing it more.
Children in Distress Network (CINDI) submission
Ms Suzanne Clulow said that it was important to consider the amount of the grant and who gets access to it, given that some children did not have the supporting documentation such as their father’s ID number linked to their birth certificate. She gave the platform to her colleague, Ms Lydia Gordon from Give and Child, a member of the CINDI network.
Ms Lydia Gordon presented a case study to illustrate how the current law and practice is working compared to how the comprehensive legal solution could work in practice: Asanda’s mother had disappeared a long time ago when Asanda was only one month old and her father had died two years back. Asanda had always lived with her 50-year-old granny who does not yet qualify for an older person's grant. The granny had never had a reason to apply for any grant as Asanda’s father was working. But now he is deceased and the family is struggling financially. Her granny approaches a social worker for help.
Ms Gordon stated that under current law, a social worker would either advice the family to obtain the CSG grant of R450 or apply for the Foster Child Grant of R1 000.
If the law is reformed to introduce a comprehensive legal solution, Asanda’s granny would not qualify for a Foster Care Grant because that would be only for children needing state care and protection - i.e. children who had no one caring for them. However they would qualify for the CSG Top-Up. While the amount would be lower than the FCG, the advantage is that the family will be able to get the money within a month instead of having to wait up to three years for the money, as is the case with the FCG. The social worker would also assist the family with counselling for Asanda and applying for legal guardianship to the Children’s Court so that the granny could administer the deceased father’s pension for Asanda.
Ms Gordon concluded that the introduction of the CSG Top Up would be beneficial and relevant to most cases where children are being cared for by their relatives enabling them to take better care of them. For this reason, CINDI was in support of the introduction of a Top Up to the CSG.
The Chairperson stated that once the Bill was passed there would be more applicants for this service and thus more resources would be required. He asked if the children who were being assisted were progressing in life and becoming educated as this was very important since social assistance was not just about giving money to recipients.
Ms A Abrahams (DA) welcomed the submissions and agreed that the amount of the Top Up was something needing careful consideration.
Ms B Masango (DA) was happy with the fact that each of the submissions showed that the organisations had children’s rights at heart. She asked what the Catholic Bishops’ proposals were for people who did not qualify for the grant. She asked the CCL if the Bill qualified as a comprehensive legal solution. She asked Black Sash to elaborate on what they meant about ‘not being used for commercial gain’. She asked whether the Social Assistance Amendment Bill and the amendment to s150(1) (a) of the Children’s Act had to happen concurrently or whether the Children’s Amendment Bill could follow later.
Ms P Sonti (EFF) requested clarity on what the CCL meant by ‘the system must be designed to be inclusive … must not be too stringent'. Based on this quote, what were the suggestions on it not being too stringent?
Ms T Mpambo-Sibhukwana (DA) asked why there were lapses in the grant system, and if this was due to negligence on the part of the recipient. She was concerned about this as it meant the children were not getting the services they needed. She asked what was being done to help the foster parents of children who were disabled. For example, what capacitation was being given to those guardians to better equip them for caring for the child. She was concerned that they were just getting the grant and not being capacitated to look after a disabled child.
Ms Sukers welcomed the submissions and agreed that the current foster care system was taking too long for those that needed to be helped. She asked if Ms Nkwanyane was asking the Department to link the Social Assistance to the Education component where the caregiver would be obliged to ensure that the child receiving a grant was in an education programme, to better equip them for the future.
The Chairperson supported that there should be an education condition for the grant and said this was long overdue. This matter was close to his heart.
Ms N Mvana (ANC) asked for clarity on the definition of Foster Parents and Guardian. She asked if guardians would also benefit from the Top Up to the CSG.
Ms N Bilankulu (ANC) noted the situation where the mother passed on without the kids knowing the father was common because the father did not accept responsibility for the child. She asked how the Bill was going to deal with that situation. She requested clarity on the definition of the Single and Double Orphan and asked if those definitions were known to social workers and to the public.
She asked what the qualifying criteria were for an orphan to get a Top Up on the CSG. She asked if government had enough budget to pay the Top Up. She highlighted that the Minister of Finance was due to cut the budget so how was the Department going to acquire funds for the Top Up to the CSG.
The Chairperson highlighted that modern paternity tests helped in reducing the number of cases where a child is left only with the mother due to the father rejecting the child. Now there was no child who would not be able to confirm who their parents were.
Ms Fayker-Abrahams from the Black Sash replied to the question about commercial gain and the integrity of the social assistance system. The Black Sash recommended that there should be investigations to ensure that integrity was maintained within the social assistance system and the national grant payment system database is not used for commercial gain by a third party.
Ms Fayker-Abrahams replied that a universal basic income grant should be introduced to help poor people who currently have no access to social assistance. The income support would help in sustaining families as it enabled them to become entrepreneurial and start ventures whereas the R430 CSG was not enough to support the family. Hence social assistance was fundamental to economic growth and reducing the number of children who end up using drugs and engaging in criminal activities. For this reason, social assistance was important to the country.
Ms Hansungule from the CCL explained that the Social Assistance Amendment Bill had to be used in line with the awaited Children’s Amendment Bill to provide a comprehensive legal solution to the foster care crisis. The requirements for the grant should not be too stringent so as to allow for faster processing, in this way more children could be reached more quickly.
She said that the Foster Care foster care grants had lapsed because their court orders expire after two years, unless extended by order of a children's court. There was no capacity within the Department of Social Development to investigate and give recommendations on whether the child should be taken back to their family or should continue under foster care.
Ms Proudlock from the Children’s Institute responded to Ms Masango’s question about whether the two Bills need to be passed concurrently. She stated that the amendments to the Social Assistance Act had to be put in place first as it required regulations to be set in place. Furthermore the UN Committee on ESCR recommended that this bill be prioritised and the government needs to report on progress in this regard to the UN by October 2020. The Children’s Amendment Bill was still delayed and waiting for it would delay the Social Assistance Bill unnecessarily. A further reason for not delaying any longer was that Treasury had already approved a budget for the CSG Top-Up and allocated money in the budget. But the allocation had been unspent twice due to the delays with the bill and therefore re-allocated to other line items.
In response to Ms Bilankulu’s question about available budget for the top-up, Ms Proudlock responded that it was primarily not about new money being needed, but more about moving budget from the FCG line item into the CSG line item.
About R4.6 billion is currently budgeted for the FCG and this could be transferred to the CSG Top Up over the next few years. As the FCG line item goes down, so the CSG line item will go up. By 2030 the FCG budget would be down to R1 billion and the difference would have moved to the CSG line item. The introduction of the Top Up did not therefore necessarily mean more money would be required.
The Chairperson interjected and stated that he was concerned that as the system would be easier to access, surely the budget would increase rapidly?
Ms Proudlock conceded that there may be a slight budget increase in the longer term. However, there was going to be a lighter load on social workers and magistrates if the Top Up was introduced, which could reduce the need for many more social workers and magistrates which was a cost saving in the budget.
Ms Proudlock explained that single parents would not qualify for the Top Up. The CSG Top-Up should only include single orphans in cases where the other parent has abandoned the child or is nowhere to be found. Orphaned and abandoned children in the care of relatives who are already in receipt of the FCG should be allowed to remain on the FCG until they ‘age out’
Ms Hall continued that the current budget for the FCG appeared enough to handle the social assistance of children, but this was because the current Act had many areas of exclusion, where a lot of eligible children had been excluded. If all these children had been included, the FCG budget would currently be much higher. The new Bill was working to reduce the exclusions.
On the challenge of proving orphan status, Ms Hall referred to page 15 of the submission. More than half a million children were not in possession of a birth certificate. Two thirds of the children possessing birth certificates do not have their fathers linked on their birth certificate. Some children had been born out of crimes such as rape, in which case they would not know their father and could not prove orphan status.
Ms Clulow indicated that her response had been accurately covered by Black Sash.
Ms Nkwenyana highlighted that the social grant was not doing what it was supposed to be doing as some people were using it for liquor. For this reason, it was better to invest in education because the grant was not doing what it was supposed to be doing.
The Chairperson said that the remaining questions from Members should be submitted to the Department. The Committee was committed to reducing the number of children who needed social grants. He was happy with how the organisations were putting pressure on the Committee to do its work and this made him proud.
The Secretary said that the Department would be invited next week to respond to the submissions.
The Chairperson stated that he was happy to see the Director General and the DDG of the Department of Social Development listening attentively to the submissions. He gave them an opportunity to tell the Committee as to what stage the Children's Amendment Bill was at.
Department of Social Development update on Children's Amendment Bill
Mr Mzolisi Toni, DSD Acting Director-General, stated that Ms Nxumalo would lead the submission.
Ms Conny Nxumalo, DSD Deputy Director-General: Welfare Services, explained that after the expiry of the court deadline of November 2019, the Department had been granted a 12-month extension on the Amendment Bill. The court had changed the reporting parameters from six months to three months to ensure that more oversight is possible.
On 25 February 2019 the Children's Amendment Bill was gazetted in the Government Gazette [Notice of Intention to Introduce into Parliament] but the Committee had not requested a briefing on the Amendment Bill before the Fifth Parliament rose on 20 March, as a result the Bill could not be processed further. With the Sixth Parliament, there was a change in cabinet, which delayed the certification of the Children's Amendment Bill. The Department had its Minister write to the Deputy President to request aid in ensuring the Bill gets approved for tabling. The Minister has submitted a memo to Cabinet requesting Cabinet’s advice on the next step.
The Chairperson asked if the Children's Amendment Bill was being started from scratch and being re-submitted to Cabinet for approval.
Ms Nxumalo explained that the Bill was not being started afresh or being submitted to Cabinet for approval but rather a memo had been sent to Cabinet for advice on how to proceed.
A legal advisor for Parliament stated that he had no idea where the Bill was and what processes it was going through. The Children's Amendment Bill had not been tabled in Parliament, since it was still pending certification.
The Chairperson asked him to comment on the question that in March 2019 the Department had stated that the Bill was ready for tabling.
He replied that he was unable to comment on that without consultation with the Department.
The Chairperson asked that the Department and the Parliamentary Law Advisor involved unite and have a common perception about the Bill. There should be a meeting between them this week so that next week they can report jointly to the Portfolio Committee on their joint opinion as to where the Bill is and what is going to happen next.
SA Post Office: media reports
The Chairperson asked for a brief discussion on SAPO. He said that the stories in the media were concerning and could not be avoided by the Committee. He asked the Content Advisor to share some articles with Members.
Ms Yolisa Nogenga, Content Advisor, stated that one of the articles referred to leadership crisis in SA Post Office, which had led to the resignation of the SAPO CEO. Another article stated that the Post Bank was going through the same process of suspending senior leadership. Some of the information had been leaked and she would not be sharing the information in the meeting but would email Members the briefing.
The Chairperson stated that the Committee should understand that SAPO directly accounts to the Portfolio Committee on Communications, and the Social Development Portfolio Committee needed to find a way to get truthful information on the matter as it affected social assistance which fell under the mandate of the PC of Social Development.
Ms Masango agreed with the Chairperson and said there was a risk from doing nothing and merely dismissing the report as fake news.
Mr Stock said that he had seen the news in the media, and was going to suggest that since SAPO accounts to the Portfolio Committee on Communications, they should have a joint session with that committee.
The Chairperson confirmed that indeed there was a need for a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Communications so that all the questions Members want to ask may be addressed.
The Chairperson asked the Secretary to note the invitation letter to the Committee members, to a joint meeting with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on 03 March 2020 for a briefing from the Department of Basic Education on Early Childhood Development.
The Chairperson stated that it was important for the Committee members to avail themselves and attend such meetings, especially where ECD was involved.
The meeting was adjourned.
- Black Sash submission
- Annexure to CINDI submission on the Social Assistance Amendment Bill
- Centre for Child Law Submissions
- Summary of Recommendations for South Africa from United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- Mrs Nomhle Nkwanyana submission
- Children in Distress Network (CINDI) submission
- Children's Institute submission
- Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office submission
- Black Sash presentation
- Centre for Child Law presentation
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