Reflections on the effectiveness of child support grants

Siebrits, Krige (2020)

CITATION: Siebrits, K. 2020. Reflections on the effectiveness of child support grants, in Grobbelaar, J. & Jones, C. (eds) 2020. Childhood vulnerabilities in South Africa : some ethical perspectives. Stellenbosch: SUN PReSS, doi:10.18820/9781928480952/09.

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South Africa’s unusually large social assistance system annually transfers some 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to the poor as cash grants.1 The child support grant (CSG) programme is one of the cornerstones of this system. Government spending on this programme exceeds 1% of South Africa’s GDP, and, in March 2019, nearly 70% of the 17.8 million grants disbursed in South Africa were CSGs (South African Social Security Agency 2019:18). The premise of this chapter is that a humane society should maintain safety net schemes to meet the basic needs of children and other vulnerable persons. Given the extent of poverty in South Africa and its severe effects on large numbers of children, this premise implies that measures, such as the CSG programme, are essential. Yet the same factors that make such interventions essential also underscore the necessity of ensuring their effectiveness. An appropriate criterion for assessing the effectiveness of the CSG programme is the degree to which its benefits to children are maximised. The design and implementation of the programme, as well as the usage of the funds by households, all influence its efficacy. In turn, the choices that manifest in these aspects of the programme reflect the beliefs of society about its obligations to poor children, those of policymakers about the requisites and agency of the poor, and those of caregivers about the needs of children and the role of grant money within household budgets. The salience of choices rooted in beliefs imparts a strong ethical slant to attempts to assess the effectiveness of the CSG programme. The chapter proceeds with an overview of economic and social influences on the living conditions of South African children. This section highlights the high incidence of poverty in South Africa and its severe effects on children. Next, the chapter sketches the history of the CSG programme and outlines its main characteristics. A review of empirical research into the effectiveness of CSGs follows. This section also identifies limitations of the programme. Against this backdrop, the final section offers broad suggestions for improving the CSG programme itself and for enhancing its effectiveness by means of changes to other policies that affect the living conditions and future prospects of children.

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