Social Development Budget Hearings: Black Sash, Unicef and Children's Institute

Social Development

18 March 2008
Chairperson: Adv T M Masutha (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

Black Sash, UNICEF and the Children's Institute briefed the Committee as part of the budget consultation process on the recently presented budget speech by the Minister of Finance, Mr Trevor Manuel, for the 2008/09 financial year.

Black Sash highlighted areas of concerns and recommendations, noting that the widening international imbalances and higher oil prices would lead to increase in inflation and interest rates thereby causing discomfort and hardship to the poor due to high food and fuel prices. Tax deductions and corporate leniency were done at the cost of the poor. It recommended the criminalisation of exploitative practices such as price fixing and collusion by business organisations. It raised concern with the weighting of ‘apex priorities’ outlined by the President in the State of the Nation Address, arguing that it was not always true that economic growth along with limited interventions in social security would reverse chronic poverty. Insufficient resources had been allocated to address the crisis, and insufficient interventions to arrest unemployment and inequality were made. It was disappointed with the response to the call for an extension of grants.

UNICEF noted that the vision and aim of the Department of Social Development was admirable and applauded it for considerable advances towards achieving its objectives despite major challenges. However, there were significant gaps. The current budget did not address the child support grant extension. There was no indication how the plight of the poor between 18 and 25 years of age would be helped. It was not clear how improving access to beneficiaries to social grants would be achieved. There was no linking of beneficiaries to other poverty alleviation programmes. UNICEF recommended that improved access to economic opportunities be achieved through active labour markets targeting youth, on-job training and remedial interventions. Further concerns were that it was not clear to which specific Monitoring and Evaluation activities the additional allocations would be given. The mapping between these activities, their objectives, and budget allocations must be clarified. The increase in the Social Security Agency administration budget must be assessed against the achievements of concrete operational targets. The costs for training and capacity development were not clearly outlined. Although programme 4 was intended to bring services closest to where they were needed, it was not apparently mainstreamed into the core services, and it seemed that the shift towards developmental social welfare services was lagging behind.

The Child Institute presented their recent publication entitled ‘Child Gauge’ and its implication on the budget estimates. It highlighted that incidences of hunger in South Africa had dropped significantly from 29%in 2002 to 16% in 2006. It proposed that instead of relying on social workers who were expensive to train, there was a need to diversify into youth workers, community workers and auxiliary workers to capacitate foster care and home based care programmes. The budget was based on the assumption of lack of capacity to spend, lack of capacity to bid and lower priority on the political arena compared to education and health.

Questions from the Committee focused on the reasons for their proposals, research information backing their assumptions, qualitative and quantitative data sets, and role of civil society in social development. They also asked for explanations and clarifications regarding the achievability of certain activities and meeting intended goals.

Meeting report

Public hearings on the Social Development Budget :
Black Sash Submission

Mr Elroy Paulus, Advice Office Programme Manager, Black Sash, briefed the Committee on the areas of concerns on the social development budget, highlighting the problems associated with budget assumptions as against statistical evidence on the incidence of poverty in the country.  He detailed the strategic areas of Black Sash as including rights education, advocacy and advice giving. This was supported by three programme areas namely; comprehensive social protection, consumer protection of the poor and making human rights real in marginalised communities.

He noted that the widening international imbalances and higher oil prices would lead to increases in inflation and interest rates, thereby causing discomfort and hardship to the poor, due to high food and fuel prices. Existing inadequate interventions by the State were not likely to arrest widening of national imbalances. The Gini co-efficient of 0.72% continued to be high between social groups. He differed with the Minister’s assertion that ‘we are all in this together’. Black Sash noted that in 2007 food prices increased by over 10%. In light of the recent global financial developments, the adjustments to the social grants for this financial year were inadequate.

Mr Paulus pointed out that tax deductions and corporate leniency were being done at the cost of the poor and recommended the criminalisation of exploitative practices such as price fixing and collusion by business organisations. He raised concern with the disproportionate benefits and safeguards accruing to undeserving business and wealthier citizens. He noted that exploitative practices, if left unchecked and unregulated, would lead to impoverishment. Black Sash also raised concern with the weighting of ‘apex priorities’ outlined by the President in the State of the Nation Address, arguing that it was too infrastructure oriented and premised on a wrong assumption that economic growth, along with limited interventions in social security, would reverse chronic poverty. Black Sash argued that the current budget, with the limitations on existing legislation dealing with exploitative commercial practices, could not address the crisis. It singled out poverty as a long standing national emergency that demanded unusual measures. Other issues were HIV and AIDS, high levels of financial illiteracy, the inability to save and a poor culture which tended to aggravate vulnerability.

Black Sash  highlighted that one in four adults, had no form of income support and were unable to access jobs through Expanded Public Works Programmes. Although the programme had created job opportunities of a temporary nature there was a low margin of skills transfer. It noted that the additional R12 billion for social grants over the next three years, although significant, was not sufficient, given the severity of unemployment, poverty and inequality. The budget failed to address the gaping hole in the economically active population. Black Sash proposed that there was a need for income support for the unemployed and working poor, a bold increase to those currently receiving social grants and a strong consumer protection to prevent citizens from becoming vulnerable and unable to fend for themselves.

Mr Paulus noted that significant resources had been allocated but these were not sufficient to address the crisis. There were insufficient interventions to arrest unemployment and inequality. He was disappointed with the response to the call for an extension of grants and the conservative approach towards the attainment of a comprehensive social security system, as demanded by the ANC Polokwane Conference. Black Sash commended the decision to equalise the State Old Age Pension as a necessary move towards gender equality and increased dignity of life for vulnerable. However, it was disappointed that the Minister of Finance failed to realise the Constitutional rights of all children by limiting the extension of the Child Support Grant to 15, as from January 2009, instead of 18 as embodied in the Constitution. He argued that the review of eligibility criteria for the Child Support Grant, to consider other issues such as school attendance and health care, had the potential to exclude more poor and marginalised children from the grant. Black Sash acknowledged the modest increases in social grants, but said that the amount of the Child Support Grant did not take into account the cost of raising a child and the impact of food and fuel price increases on the poor. The 10% increase of that Grant from R200 to R220 would not help poor families. Many of their clients who visited their regional offices were often unable to access a grant for a host of reasons. The Black Sash commended actions such as penalising repeat public servant offenders, and the recovery of more than R16. 6 million from un-titled beneficiaries, and the acknowledgement of debts of R77. 5 million. It noted with concern that 123 610 beneficiaries has been cancelled due to non-collection or direct requests from beneficiaries.

Black Sash sought to engage on the details of the proposed ‘review of eligibility criteria’ for the Child Support Grant. Mr Paulus sought the Committee’s support and advice on how best to take forward an inclusive discussion on this matter. Along with their partners, such as People’s Budget Campaign, Financial Sector Charter Campaign (FSCC) and ACESS, it would insist on participating in the proposed ‘National War Room against Poverty’. It would continue to seek clarity about the association of ‘non-collection’ of grants with fraudulent behaviour. It proposed that the Committee should take forward developments by the Competition Commission on amendments to their mandate, criminalising bad business practices, and the imposition of larger fines on perpetrators and contribute towards advocating for a reweighing of ‘apex priorities’ that addressed unemployment and inequality more urgently.

Discussion
A Member wanted to know why Black Sash was urban-biased in its operations and why in their presentation there was no mention of maintenance fees and insurance of passengers by taxi operators. He asked the organisation’s views on the issuing of identity documents to foreigners by the Department of Home Affairs, the shortage of social workers and other skilled personnel. He added that budgeting for contingencies was difficult, as no one knew what would happen.

Ms H Weber (DA) raised a point of order against the Member, arguing some of the questions raised were outside the jurisdiction of Black Sash. She said Black Sash should help the MPs to bring the Department of Home Affairs in order. She expressed concern at pensioners who were not receiving their payouts. She urged civil society to help the parliamentarians in monitoring the distribution of corporate fines and donations.

Mr B Pule (UDP) bemoaned the skills shortage within the public service as hindering service delivery.

A representative from the Department of Social Development said there was need to fast track social relief to distressed beneficiaries. She revealed that the Social Relief for the Distressed (SRD) Bill would be tabled before Parliament after the elections to help the poor.

The Chairperson pointed out that the Committee had objected to the proposed framework by the Department and had tasked them to come up with proper legislation for the SRD grant. He asked Black Sash to elaborate on their poverty line measurements proposals and the model used to assess them.

Mr Elroy Paulus responded that the organisation was urban oriented because some time in 2005 and 2006 they encountered funding problems that resulted in the closing of certain offices located in rural areas. He revealed that efforts were under way to revive some of these offices.

He pointed out that his organisation had chosen to engage the Committee, contrary to other sister organisations that had pulled out of the consultative process. He said they were however concerned that Parliament could not amend the budget, despite deliberations.

On the issue of insurance for accidents, he said his organisation was only dealing with Vote 16. He concurred that the incompetence of the Department of Home Affairs was cause for concern. He proposed that fines recovered from business organisations by the Competition Commission should be used for or invested in schools development and nutrition provision. He agreed that it was difficult to budget for contingency. He applauded the suggestions that a proper legislation for SRD was on the pipeline.

Ms Leonie Caroline, Regional Director (Western Cape), Black Sash, clarified the programme areas in which Black Sash was involved. This included consumer protection, making human rights real in marginalised communities and comprehensive social protection. She added that Black Sash also dealt with asylums and refugees. She conceded that their offices were dotted around four major metros, although they had paralegal offices that advised community leaders and conducted rights education in marginalised communities.

Ms Caroline pointed that comprehensive social support was a challenge requiring concerted efforts. In this regard her organisation had teamed up with other organisations, especially the Right to Health Campaign and the Right to Food Campaign. She revealed that the Department of Home Offices’ in Kwazulu Natal was appearing in court several times a month, thereby increasing litigation costs of the department.

In relation to questions asked about the Department of Traffic and issues of accident insurance, she said her organisation was only concerned with the cost of transport as it related to social grant collection. She cited the case where beneficiaries would pay R30 in transport costs to collect a child support grant of R60, as unnecessary and too costly. She proposed that various municipalities should subsidise transport costs incurred by social grants recipients. She highlighted that the shortage of social workers had hindered the roll out of SRD grants and foster care programmes.

United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) Submission
Prof Rose September, Parliamentary Advocacy Specialist, UNICEF, noted that the vision and aim of the Department of Social Development was admirable and she applauded it for considerable advances towards achieving its objectives despite major challenges. UNICEF raised concern with programme 2 dealing with comprehensive social security and expenditure trends; programme 3 dealing with policy development, review and implementation support for welfare services, programme 4 community development and programme 5 strategy and governance.

She noted that in general the programme on comprehensive social security constituted the government’s most significant contribution towards comprehensive social security. The gap however remained startling. In neither the current budget nor in other parts was the extension of Child Support Grant (CSG) to 14 years mentioned. There was no indication of how the plight of poor children between 18and 25 would be changed. It was not clear that ‘ improving access to household beneficiaries of social assistance to economic opportunities’ could be achieved by leveraging social grants, given that: the skill and asset base of grant beneficiaries was low, the size of the grants, especially the CSG, was limited, the grant was means-tested and left out a significant number of the poor. In addition there was no systematic mechanism  that linked beneficiaries to other existing poverty alleviation programmes and beneficiaries were not naturally linked to social support services nor any exit strategies. UNICEF recommended that improved access to economic opportunities be achieved through active labour markets targeting especially youth, on-job training and remedial interventions. It noted that it was advisable to associate job-specific training to life skills such as basic literacy, numeracy and attitudes on the workplace, and job search skills, especially for youth.

While earmarked allocations to Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) activities were welcomed, given that M & E functions were critical to boost planning and execution capacity, UNICEF noted that it was not clear to which specific M & E activities the additional allocations would be given. It was not clear whether the management information system for social welfare services was the same as that for the comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system to improve service delivery. The mapping between M&E activities, their objectives, and budget allocations must be clarified to avoid the risk of overlapping. There seemed to be a disproportion between the breadth of M & E activities and the small budget allocated under programme 5. It was important that the increase in Social Security Agency administration budget be assessed against the achievements of concrete operational targets.

UNICEF noted that considerable resources had been allocated to South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) Management Information System. However, it asked whether the results achieved in 2006 to 2008 justified these amounts. 

The costs associated with training and capacity development of staff under programme 3 were not explicit in the budget. For the national government to conduct its role of oversight, leadership and guidance to the provinces there was a need to invest more funds in capacity development and support for the first level, as the tools, instruments and materials were currently non-existent. Furthermore programme 3 should articulate the desired synergy with the comprehensive social security by designing sustainable livelihoods.

UNICEF highlighted that programme 4 was intended to bring services closest to where they were needed, but was not apparently mainstreamed into the core services as provided under programme 3, as intended by the new Department of Social Development (DSD) service model. The size and scope of the services under this programme indicated that the shift towards developmental social welfare services was lagging behind. The new legislation and policy reforms, regulations and further guidelines provided an important opportunity for review and betterment. UNICEF praised the efforts to increase the programme 5 budget to increase capacity and oversight in the Department.


Discussion
The Chairperson wanted to know the role of the population unit, which was poorly funded and not visible enough.

Mr T Godi (APC) questioned UNICEF whether the budget was not in line with the strategic plan, function of the internal audit unit and inspectorate on the ground. He expressed concern at NGOs that were not accountable and transparent in their operations, despite receiving funding from government.

A Member referred to programme 3, where UNICEF had proposed the need to go beyond training. He asked the organisation what solution they had to address the problem.

Prof Rose September said that UNICEF worked closely with the Department of Social Development. She agreed that the budget articulated government’s strategic priorities in many ways. She highlighted that the building of institutional capacity was essential to meet the departmental targets. The M & E required an overhaul so that indicators of social grants were evaluated effectively. She added that community development had the potential to transform service delivery, although there were huge funding. policy and capacity issues of NGOs that needed to be addressed.

Prof September added that the training of social workers was expensive and time consuming,  hence the need to invest in the training of youth workers, community workers and auxiliary workers to complement the few social workers available at the moment. She noted that there was also a need to invest in other models of training to address pertinent developmental challenges of different communities.

Children's Institute Submission
Ms Paula Proudlock, Programme Manager, Children's Institute, presented their recent publication entitled ‘Child Gauge’ which set out the implication on the budget estimates. She said the publication was made of three sections dealing with the Children’s Act, Rights of Children and statistics and demographic data on Children in South Africa. It highlighted that incidences of hunger in South Africa had dropped significantly from 29% in 2002, to 16% in 2006. It proposed that instead of relying on social workers who were expensive to train, there was a need to diversify into youth workers, community workers and auxiliary workers to capacitate foster care and home based care programmes. It pointed out that it was unfortunate the budget was made based on the assumption of lack of capacity to spend, lack of capacity to bid and lower priority on the political arena compared to education and health.

Discussion
The Chairperson thanked the Children's Institute for a detailed presentation and asked the Institute to furnish the Committee with written responses on the costs associated with childcare and the methodology used in their publication. He added that the National Treasury made budget allocations on the basis of capacity to bid and capacity to spend.

The Members did not raise any questions for the Children's Institute.

The meeting was adjourned.


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