Thursday, July 17, 2014

Social policy and poverty reduction: good news and outcomes for South African kids

It is great to see social policy research be given some good coverage recently by South African media and SA tweeters at large, especially in the last week.  In the social protection space, South African journalists have been highlighting research on the positive well-being outcomes on poor children as a result of social grants. Furthermore, the Department of Social development’s recent actions on their new technological system of distribution is providing transparency on their service provider and reacting to beneficiary feedback.  

Social protection policy is key to meeting the constitutional rights of equity in South Africa.  There are several social welfare programmes in place such as cash transfers through social grants. 

A.  Recent Research on well-being outcomes and poverty reduction & social grants

Today, social grants have evidence of improving the well-being outcomes of poor children (Coetzee, 2014) as well as helpe to alleviate poverty (Woolard & Leibbrandt, 2010).  Using the NIDS 2008 data, Coetzee (2014) shows specific analysis of the average changes on a child who had received the grant for 10 percentage point of his or her life longer than others (Below are results directly from herEcon3x3 paper):

As directly from the Coetzee paper, the findings show:
  • “Height-for-age: Approximately 1cm taller. (In terms of the normal patterns of the height of children, this is a statistically significant increase.
  • The probability of repeating a school year: A decrease of approximately 4 percentage points. (Since the average probability of repeating a school year in the sample is 20%, this is quite an improvement – and it is statistically significant.)
  • Monthly food expenditure: A statistically significant increase of between R3.50 and R5 per person. (Since households in the sample on average spent R130 per person on food per month, this is a 3% increase in monthly food expenditure per person. This may underestimate the effect of the grant on children’s food intake. A smaller amount is typically spent on food for children than for adults (children consume less food than adults), thus the relative increase in expenditure on a child’s food probably amounts to more than 3%. This could also explain the increase in children’s height for age.
  • Expenditure on adult goods: A decrease of approximately 1 percentage point. (This is quite large – and statistically significant – given that the average household spent approximately 4% of household spending on such goods.)”

Further interest in the research above can be found from her original paper:

Coetzee, M. (2013). Finding the Benefits: Estimating the Impact of The South African Child Support Grant. South African Journal of Economics, 81(3), 427-450. doi: 10.1111/j.1813-6982.2012.01338.x

B.  Social protection in the SA News

You can also read the short summary and commentary on the research findings by two journalists.

Article 1.  Paton, Carol (16 July 2014) 'Welfare grants help children walk taller' BDlive website article.  [accessed 17 July 2014]

  • I love tweets and one tweeter @lindseymoyo summed the article: "how child welfare grants of as little as R310/month can have a significant impact."

Speaking of tweets, I (along with other tweeters!) picked up on this story due to the Daily Maverick’s regular tweet feed which led me to another article referencing Paton and Coetzee’s work. 

Article 2.  Grootes, Stephen (16 July 2014) 'Social grants - a real, good story to tell'  Daily Maverick online news article.  [accessed 17 July 2014]

  • The article is an attempt by Daily Maverick's Stephen Grootes to dispel some of the cynicism around social grants in South Africa. The cynics believe that it is wasted time and money to provide the poor with taxpayer's money through social grants.  This story again provides some of information on Coetzee's study on improved educational and health outcomes on children in households which receive grants.  He tells SA to take some praise for the social welfare work they have to date.

Other news in social development which piqued my interest were the next two articles:

Article 3.  Ensor, Linda (16 July 2014) 'Task team to probe illegal lending to social grant beneficiaries' BDlive website article.  [accessed 17 July 2014]
  • In summary, a Ministerial task team under the Department of Social Development will look into latest complaints and issues of unscrupulous lending to social grant beneficiaries.

In the story, Ms Dlamini is quoted in saying, 
"during my visits to many poor rural and urban communities, I received many complaints from beneficiaries about various types of deductions, including loans, deductions from multiple funeral schemes, electricity and airtime from social grants payments, often without their knowledge or consent."

Since the new grant payment system had come online, I would see examples of these horror stories of recipients who would see automatic deductions made to their account and not knowing where such authorisation had taken place. 

The ministry’s task team is looking to stop such exploitation including “prohibit[ing] credit providers and other persons from conducting and marketing their products within defined perimeters of SASSA offices and pay-points”. 

The Ensor article further states that not all low-income household have signed up for the support grant: 
"more than 16-million social assistance grants are paid monthly, though Ms Dlamini said that the take-up rate for the child support grant for infants from birth to two years was low."

Another interesting comment by Minister Dlamini:  
"This is a serious concern for us because early intervention yields better outcomes for children." 
"We plan to increase the take-up rate in this group by 70 % through the implementation of various initiatives."

These statement is promising!  This is given Coetzee's research that shows improved health and educational outcomes amongst poor households whose children take on nearly full advantage of receiving support grants for the full duration of the child’s life.  Is this a sign that politicians are taking up research-based evidence appropriately?

Article 4.  Diseko, Kgomoco, (13 July 2014) 'Point-scoring in grant case is out ofline' BDlive website article.   [accessed 17 July 2014]

This story is about the Constitutional Court case on Allpay (associated with Absa) had taken SASSA's to court on the contract to Cash paymaster services (CPS) to provide services on distributing social grants to over 10 million South Africans.  

According to Diseko, the court case was on the grounds for two issues: "There were two grounds for this: first, CPS’s empowerment credentials had not been confirmed by Sassa; and the bidders’ notice it put out was not sufficiently clear in what it wanted in terms of biometric verification."

Apparently, previous articles were rather framing the SASSA in a manner as if it were involved in malevolent action, corruption as such, which the article states is a distortion of the true nature of the court case. 

Given these four articles, South Africa media has been kind to social grants and researchers in this field this July 2014 month! :) 

C.  Social media reports on social grants and dependency (17 July 2014)

Today Sakina Kamwendo @SakinaKamwendo from SAFM's Forum@8 asking the question: How do we break the chain of too much dependence on Government? Kamwendo’s question ignites several great comments including the DM article mentioned above. 

Some great tweets from the Forum@8 I picked up were: 

  • @Ntru36 along with many other tweeters argues for the job creation route, improving the support for small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • @Gomo_R talks about taking ownership and responsibility with one's own neighbourhood in order to break out of government dependency. This led to a back and forth tweet dialogue that when offered a bit more money, people would move to take up other better opportunities.  This remark brought up questions of why not stick with one's community and invest efforts back into it, in order to see socio-economic change from the ground.  Another tweeter mentions that his own school is in such a mess that even if help arrived now, it would not see the immediate changes needed.

  • Specifically looking at social grants, @nqalatha found grants to be the best value of government money in supporting the poor.

  • In the discussion, you also had your nay-sayers like Tweeter @inganande who think the social grant system are full of government dependents.  Others like @tebza_e think the government currently put more weight on social grants that helping to enhance job opportunities.

In tweetosphere summary, it has been great to see everyday South Africans be able to contribute to such a social policy debate in a mix of spheres. In this case we see radio listeners converge with radio, having the chance to tweet their response rather than be the limited few who can get airtime during a short radio broadbast.

D.  Other social protection weblinks for July 2014
Institute of Development Studies brings to our attention 'reframing social protection for social justice' or the special issue for the European Journal of Development Research - an emerging reflection of "the relationship between social protection and social justice".  One great summary for the webpage: 

"It uses a human wellbeing framework to explore what is required for social protection to be truly transformative. Social protection can be conceived, designed and implemented in different ways so that it is better able to deliver social justice in specific developing country contexts."


Woolard, I., & Leibbrandt, M. (2010). The Evolution and Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers in South Africa In SALDRU (Ed.). Cape Town: University of Cape Town.

No comments: