Government putting unemployment and poverty alleviation so central in the 2010 budget is to be welcomed. However, more must be done to address the structural nature of poverty and inequality.
The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness (PACSA) recognises that the budget was presented in tough economic times and seeks to meet legitimate expectations within the constraints of limited resources. However, if the Government is to make good on its many promises, the fundamental question is whether it begins to shift public resources more deliberately to tackle the structural nature of poverty and inequality and ensure that every South African has the opportunity to participate within the economy with dignity. This pre-supposes honest dialogue, transparency and access to information so that communities and civil society formations can monitor government’s performance and fulfil their constitutional responsibility to hold government accountable.
The budget contains much to be welcomed, including: providing more resources for HIV therapy, an incentive to businesses to hire unemployed youth, continuing the planned phased extension of the child support grant up to 18 years, measures to combat fraud and corruption, and a stated openness to dialogue with all social formations. The ‘devil’, however, is in the detail, and we hope that lack of implementation will not once again prevent those who most need it from accessing the much needed services. While we welcome the extra resources for HIV therapy, the question remains whether the National Health System is in a position to utilise these resources efficiently. Moreover, the Minister spoke about improving hospitals, but not about improving access of the poor in rural areas to adequate clinics and hospitals. Efficient and well-equipped hospitals and clinics will be of little use to the poor if they continue to be unable to access basic life-saving facilities.
Regarding the focus on youth unemployment, we have three issues: First, ensuring that employers do not abuse the tax incentives to employ young workers by either retrenching permanent staff or putting youth into posts without developing them. Proper monitoring is required if this incentive is to boost meaningful participation in the economy. Second, we had hoped that the Minister would address the role that parastatals could play in youth employment through means of the expansion of apprenticeship type jobs in the public service. Third, while plans to beef up education at basic and FET levels is laudable, the much maligned skills shortage will not be meaningfully addressed until state and private sector resources for study bursaries adequately meet the need. The budget speech is silent on this.
While we laud the expansion of the child support grant up to 18 year olds, as advocates for a universal Basic Income Grant, we and many others are again disappointed. Research shows that grants have numerous developmental outcomes, including enabling children to get to schools, job seekers to seek employment, entrepreneurs to set up micro enterprises, and the sick to get to health care facilities. Should we not revisit this debate on the Basic Income Grant in keeping with ‘doing things differently’?
Considering that 80% of the population still live in rural or semi-rural areas and the President emphasised Government’s rural development programme in his address, we expected more on this. The focus still seems to be on developing a first world economy, without exploring creative ways to stimulate the rural economy.
Recognising that a budget speech only outlines a broad framework and that it could not possibly address all the details of government’s programme, we will listen with great attention to the other ministerial budget speeches, and to those coming up in KZN this week, for more detailed evidence that Government will demonstrate in practice the Minister’s stated commitment to justice in ‘actual lives’ as he implies in his closing quote from renowned economist Amartya Sen.
Pietermaritzburg Agency for Christian Social Awareness