Black Sash Media Statements

Until poverty is reduced, we should not be talking about reducing social grants - Black Sash, 24 November 2011

For Immediate Release: Thursday, 24 November 2011

The President's comments on the unsustainability of social grants (made yesterday to an investors forum organised by the Western Cape Investment and Trade Promotion Agency) are incongruous given existing legislation as well as the policy and budget commitments already made to this vital poverty intervention programme. In the face of our alarmingly high poverty levels, we are concerned that there should be any talk of this kind. While the President may have been trying to reassure business leaders, it is irresponsible to send out a message that our society will reach a point any time soon where we can afford to reduce social grants. That point will only come when we are able to reduce our people's very real need for support. As the National Planning Commission said recently, "we should not underestimate the length of time it will take to fix the problem (of poverty)". 

It is also misleading for President Zuma to suggest that we “cannot afford to indefinitely pay social grants to people who are not elderly and who have no physical defects”. Our current social security systems only provides grants to the most vulnerable – children, the elderly and disabled. We offer no income support to the 36% of able-bodied adults in our country who can’t find work and have no means of supporting themselves and their families. Likewise, there is no relief for those in our country who are chronically ill.

Taking grants away will not create jobs. What we need from President Zuma and his ministers are convincing plans to reduce unemployment, not pronouncements on reducing grants. What we need from our government is bold and decisive leadership to break the devastating stranglehold of poverty and inequality in our country.

Decent work provides dignity; it provides security for a family, and means that people are able to contribute towards, rather than depend on the social security system. But until the one in four unemployed adults in our society have decent work, we will continue to argue that their right to a decent life, and the survival of our democracy, is most effectively guaranteed through social protection. Like decent and accessible health care and good quality basic education, social security is a Constitutional right that needs to be realised if we are to build a society which is cohesive, more equal, and values human dignity.  What we need is for our leaders to be real about what it will be necessary to spend to achieve this.

Social security on its own is clearly not the answer to all our problems. It is not going to reverse the structural poverty in our society or bridge the yawning inequality gap that exists between rich and poor. It won’t make a major dent in our high unemployment figures either. But social protection can provide the platform from which people build sustainable livelihoods, and social grants do help to lessen the unacceptable burden of poverty endured by so many South Africans. Until that poverty is reduced, neither the President, nor the people, should be talking about reducing social grants.

ENDS.

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