Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on 23 February 2011 once again presented a budget outlining government’s priorities for spending. Whilst we welcome the apparent shift in emphasis from encouraging entitlement through social grants towards an expectation that all people in South Africa should play a role and be empowered to do so, especially through job creation and inclusive growth, we need to highlight the continuing urgent need for poverty relief we encounter in our everyday work.
We acknowledge that more than a quarter of our population are receiving some assistance, with over 15 million recipients of social grants, and that this is not sustainable in the longer term without a growth in the tax base that needs to be grounded in a greater proportion of the population being economically active. On the other hand, without the immediate relief provided by social grants to the most vulnerable in our society, the 35% child recipients of these grants will never have any chance of survival let alone opportunity to grow and become part of the growing economically active populace so clearly needed.
We therefore welcome the addition to the grants, although we note with some perplexity that those receiving foster care grants are receiving a smaller percentage increase (4.4%) than those receiving old age, disability or dependency care grants (5.5%).
Once again, the Minister has failed to make mention of the NGO sector that plays such an important role in the actual delivery of social services. According to a study conducted by the Children’s Institute, transfers from the provinces to NGOs delivering social services fell from 60% of the total 2006/07 social services budget across provinces to 51% in 2010/11. The Minister has pointed out that the public service salary bill has doubled over the past five years, and constitutes around 40% of the non interest expenditure overall. Taken together, these factors highlight a problem that has been faced by all NGOs in the social services sector - improvements to government personnel numbers and conditions of service have not been met with concurrent improvement to NGO funding.
Given the shortage of skills in this sector, the result has been a shift in employment of social service professionals from the NGO sector to government rather than an increase in the number of professionals. This has not been met, however, with any apparent lessening of the burden of social service delivery on the NGO sector. This imbalance, therefore, needs to be urgently addressed if the NGO sector is to play its designated role as partner to government in the delivery of social services.
We note that subsidy levels remain disparate between provinces, and believe that all provincial subsidies funding posts should be at least be sufficient to remunerate staff at a level equivalent to government salaries paid.
With regards to the aforementioned skills shortage, we can only hope that, given the increases promised in this budget on education and training, a significant emphasis will be placed on increasing the number of professional staff in the social service sector, including direct support of NGO sector initiatives to assist in the training of these professionals.
National Executive Director
Child Welfare South Africa