BLACK SASH MEDIA STATEMENT – RESPONSE TO THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS
For Immediate Release: Friday, 6 February 2009
The Black Sash welcomes President Kgalema Motlanthe’s acknowledgement that “abject poverty is still too widespread in our society; and the level of inequality is too high.”
We applaud the government’s commitment to tackle the crisis and commend its plans to increase the capacity necessary for improved service delivery and better integration within and across the spheres of government, including national strategic planning.
The Black Sash also welcomes, and claims as a victory (together with other civil society partners), government's commitment to sustain and expand social expenditure, as well as to continue to research and consult on the introduction of a Comprehensive Social Security System, including the matter of National Health Insurance.
Comprehensive Social Security
However, the Black Sash remains deeply concerned that the importance of implementing a Comprehensive Social Security System - that would provide support to the millions of South Africans who can't find work - is still not high enough on the government's list of priorities.
We understand that huge poverty and inequality challenges remain, but we do not accept the findings of Van den Berg (extensively quoted in the State of the Nation speech), that the extent and depth of poverty in South Africa has been improving. The recent National Poverty Hearings heard emphatically that new challenges facing the poor include increased hunger.
The Black Sash is fully aware of the current pressures on the fiscus as a result of the global economic crisis, but we would like to remind the government that the poor are feeling these effects most acutely. By the government's own admission, tens of thousands of workers are expected to lose their jobs this year. Now, more than ever, the poor and vulnerable need support and protection. We simply cannot afford as a society to move more people into poverty.
The Black Sash therefore re-iterates its call for a concrete plan for the phased implementation of social security for all who need it (as promised in our Constitution) -together with effective, developmental social services - as we believe these are proven and effective interventions that can stem poverty and correct inequality.
We believe it will be the responsibility of the incoming administration to provide a “road map” of policies and programmes to realise the Constitutional Right to Social Security.
Extension of Child Support Grant
The Black Sash welcomes the promise to extend the Child Support Grant to 18 in line with the Constitutional Rights of our children to social protection. However, the promise to do so has been made a number of times over the past two years by both the ANC and the State (in particular the Minister of Social Development). Until this promise is enshrined in law, it remains just a promise.
The intention to announce each extension on a year-by-year basis will also subject this promise to the vagaries of the economy or changes in political leadership unless enshrined in the regulations of the 'Social Assistance Act'. A clause also needs to be included to ensure that children do not fall off the system on their birthday between the yearly incremental age increases.
National Health Insurance
The Black Sash welcomes the commitment to continue to engage on the matter of National Health Insurance (NHI). We have long argued that it is important to consider a system for our national health services that would realise the right of all to quality health care and which would be free at the point of service.
Healthcare is essential to our quality of life and as such, is a basic human right that should not be linked to one's ability to pay for it. It has been proven that 'out of pocket' health expenses are debilitating and affect thousands of families across many income streams.
Unemployment, decent and sustainable work
The Black Sash is deeply concerned that unemployment remains stubbornly high (and is worsening in the current economic climate), and that there is a burgeoning of casual and outsourced jobs, excluding many from the benefits of ‘worker rights’ and a range of social security provisions such as the right to contribute to a pension.
While we cautiously welcome the government's commitment to extend the Expanded Public Works Programmes (EPWP), major improvements need to be made before they are able to have a substantial or sustainable impact on our high unemployment rates.
Currently, the EPWP's provide only temporary relief to a relatively small group of people. The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) recently calculated that with flat to negative economic growth, the EPWP would have to produce 3.4 million job opportunities each year to reach their target by 2014.
The Black Sash believes social security provision for the unemployed is not only a Constitutional Right, but also the sharpest social policy tool available right now to address the unsustainably high levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa.
While we welcome the expansion of Social Relief of Distress, it must be remembered that this provides only temporary (three months) assistance. Sustained income support for the structurally unemployed is what our country really needs, particularly at this time of global economic meltdown.