The Black Sash wishes to applaud Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for his candid acknowledgement of the depth and breadth of poverty and inequality in South Africa; and for prioritising the development and welfare of our people over a single-minded pursuit of fiscal discipline. Despite the recessionary climate, this bold budget intensifies government spending on many of our urgent social needs, bringing us closer to realising the Constitutional promise of social protection for all.
However, we are disturbed by the deafening silence over decent work. By barely mentioning it, Minister Gordhan leaves us uncertain of our government’s commitment to protect the millions of poor families who rely on the income of wage-earners. We need to stand firm on their right to acceptable levels of pay even as we battle our high levels of unemployment. The Black Sash is also disappointed that the budget failed to include the one third of working people who make a life in our informal economy. And we deeply regret the absence of new thinking on rural development, without which our cities will continue to buckle under pressure from the millions seeking opportunities.
We are relieved that government spending on grants is largely keeping track with inflation despite the recent grant bashing by some commentators. The Black Sash also warmly welcomes the decision to raise the means threshold of our State Old Age Pension to include more households. We have been calling for a comprehensive social security system for over a decade and believe that today’s speech indicates substantial progress towards this goal. The Black Sash is also encouraged that the proposed mandatory retirement plan will be accompanied by a much needed review of the industry to assess as Minister Gordhan puts it, “high costs and consumer abuses”.
The Black Sash welcomes the firm allocation of resources to restructure our public health system. We endorse the focus on primary healthcare and welcome the budget for the improvement of hospital care. The establishment of the Office of Standards Compliance is a vital innovation which we hope will improve the public’s often miserable experience of poor service. Based on our provincial health consultations, we would like to see impoverished provinces receive focussed support to ensure their inclusion in the promises of this policy.
There are positive signs in the budget of a more integrated approach to our dangerously disaffected youth. The Black Sash welcomes the more substantial funding for enterprise and skills development, and specifically the plan to double the number of young people in FET colleges this year.