Right to a quality standard of living
Whether or not children enjoy an adequate quality of life depends to a large extent on family income and the services they are able to access. In South Africa, efforts to improve children’s circumstances are paying off, yet progress is uneven.
One positive trend has been a reduction in child poverty between 2002 and 2008. The number of children living in poverty dropped by 13 per cent during this period, largely as a result of economic growth and the social grants system.
The social protection programme is one of the most advanced and wide reaching for a middle-income country, helping to reduce income inequality among the poor, elderly and disabled. One of its best-targeted grants, the Child Support Grant has increased more than tenfold since 2000, and today more than 10 million children receive it. Evidence shows that the grant cushioned the blow of the global economic recession on South Africa by preventing a rise in child poverty levels and keeping families and children from sliding into deeper poverty.
However, research has revealed that although social grants have been crucial in reducing poverty among the poorest families they have changed inequality levels only marginally, (OECD, 2010). A high proportion of children continue to live in poverty – 62.1 per cent of children live in households with a per capita income of less than R570 per month (Statistics South Africa, 2010). Additionally, close to 2.1 million children – 27 per cent of eligible children – have not been able to register for the Child Support Grant because of administrative hurdles.
They include children who are hard to reach, one-year-old children and adolescents who have yet to register for the grant. From a policy perspective, these children need to be traced, and innovative ways found to deliver the grant to them.
South Africa’s high unemployment, which affects women and young people more than others, is a key driver of poverty and income inequality. Unemployment rates for youth under the age of 25 years are around 50 per cent (National Treasury, 2011).
A comprehensive approach needs to be taken to tackle child poverty, including job creation and equipping young people with marketable skills. In addition, skills shortages, challenges in the government’s procurement system and prioritising the most impoverished and under-served provinces and municipalities all have to be systematically addressed to remove entrenched bottlenecks in the delivery of basic services.