On the eve of Pravin Gordhan’s National Budget Speech (22 Feb), over a thousand non-government organisation (NGO) care workers are hoping for news that brings financial relief and better working conditions.
They will be watching to see if the budget for social welfare services receives the 1.9% increase recommended by the Review of the White Paper for Social Development. This Review was approved by Cabinet in June 2016. If the increase does not come, some workers in the care sector will continue to earn as little as R500 per month.
Care workers include social workers, counsellors, child care workers and community health workers, amongst others. They provide a range of social welfare services to children, older persons, people with physical or mental disabilities, people addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, people living with AIDS and victims of crime, such as rape and domestic violence.
Lisa Vetten, a researcher based at the Wits City Institute, said government’s budgets for social welfare services have not been adequate to address decades’ worth of under-resourcing, especially in services to black communities which suffered the most neglect under apartheid.
According to Sanja Bornman, from Lawyers for Human Rights’ Gender Equality Programme, this chronic under-resourcing is a serious human rights issue for two reasons. First, most care workers are women, and undervaluing their work amounts to gender discrimination. Second, services to millions of the most vulnerable people living in South Africa are under threat. They include children, victims of abuse, older persons and people with disabilities.
The CareWork Campaign is being launched to address this. It is a collaboration between more than 1,000 organisations working with more than five million people across South Africa. Failing to grow budgets, and choosing to shrink them instead, contributed significantly to the tragic and unnecessary deaths of more than 100 former Life Esidimeni patients, the campaign said.
The 2016 Review of the White Paper for Social Development observed “huge gaps” in the provision of social welfare services that “leave the poorest individuals and households in extreme distress.” Yet NGOs are being compelled to reduce or even close community care services due to inadequate funding from government, said Marieta Kemp, Chairperson of the National Coalition for Social Services (NACOSS).
Government has a constitutional obligation to care for its citizens. These services do not have to be the work of government alone but can also be provided by NGOs and the private sector.
The DSD does not fully fund NGOs to provide their services and programmes. Instead they are paid a portion of their staff and administration costs and expected to make up the balance of their funding from the shrinking pool of money from business and other sources.
At 10%, the portion of DSD’s budget allocated to social welfare programmes is also small and has remained stagnant for over a decade. This budget has also been eaten into by ten years of generous above-inflation pay increases for government employees.
In 2014/15 the average amount spent on welfare programmes for the poorest 40% of the population was R463 per person annually. This varied considerably across provinces. The Northern Cape was the most generous, spending R1,009 per person, and KwaZulu-Natal the least generous with just R299 per person.
As a consequence, significant disparities in subsidies existed between provinces. Vetten’s research shows a pattern between 2012 and 2017 of below-inflation annual increases – or no increase at all – to NGOs’ subsidies. In 2016/17 some social workers in North West province received subsidies of R5,415 a month, while the subsidies of those based in the Western Cape amounted to R14,362/month. This represented 31% and 80% respectively of the R17,605/month paid to entry-level government social workers.
The CareWork Campaign calls on the DSD to do away with these and standardize subsidies for posts across provinces.
NGO staff without formal qualifications earn considerably less. In the Eastern Cape and Limpopo the provincial offices of the DSD allocated stipends to ‘volunteers’ of between R500 and R600 per month, even though these people were working hours similar to those classified as employees. In Gauteng, the subsidy paid to counsellors was R1,250/month.
All these amounts fell below the minimum wage for farm and forestry workers in 2016 (R2,779/month), as well as the proposed national minimum wage of R3,500/month.
Between 2009 and 2016, inflation increased by 6%, and some people use up to 20% of their earnings on transport. R500 per month is nowhere close to a living wage, particularly in such challenging working conditions, yet many tolerate this with the fear of having no other means of income.
The campaign says the DSD as well as the department of health must urgently establish an expert panel to address the pay challenges experienced in the care work sector – as recommended by the National Minimum Wage Panel.
“Accelerating radical economic transformation, and eradicating poverty, unemployment and inequality are supposed to be government priorities,” Vetten said. “We want government to show that these are not empty slogans, and the social care sector is a very good place to start”.
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