Guy Berger
Guy Berger

Skewering stereotypes about child support grants

Sunday’s City Press saw a column by deputy editor Lizeka Mda who repeated her standing antipathy to government grants for child support.

In the past, she’s argued that if her tax money is encouraging girls to have babies, at least they should be required to present school certificates when the children are old enough to be educated.

Coincidentally, last week academic Francie Lund, speaking at Rhodes University, presented a strong critique of the misconceptions and myths about child benefits which abound in media coverage.

On the schooling issue, she pointed out that, if anything, child grants (which are now for young people up to age 15) are being diverted towards the cost of school uniforms. This was a far cry, she said, from a situation where mothers are even being accused of spending child support money on cosmetics. She further cited research which showed, at least, that women tended to spend grants in general, in more productive ways than men (who, for instance, sometimes spent money on alcohol).

Lund further argued that 95% of South African children do in fact go to school, and requiring parents to bring proof of this would just add an unnecessary conditionality to the grant – thereby raising the costs of roll-out. Her view in fact is that every child should be eligible for the grant -– which would more than compensate the cost of any extra recipients by reducing the administration costs.

Although speaking in another regard about corruption, a point that Lund made is also germane to the question of conditionalities being linked to grants. This is that the more an individual has to prove eligibility, the more leverage an official has for extortion.

On the matter of teenage pregnancies, Lund was emphatic that South Africa already had the world’s highest recorded rates even before the child support grant. She knew of no real evidence of a trend of girls deciding to have babies because of the grant when it was introduced in 1998.

The logic, rather, was that women had babies and then sought a grant subsequently, she stated.

Lund also rejected the views of those who argued that welfare spending was wasteful, that it created dependencies and that the state ought not to spend on consumption. Supporting poor children, especially in their earlier years when malnutrition could stunt their ability for life, was a real investment in a society, she argued. No subsequent programs could reverse damage done to individuals in their vulnerable years. The point, it seems, is that Lizeka’s money will benefit her as a South African, in the long run.

Lund commended coverage of state bungling around many social grants, but proposed that there was not enough focus on achievements and efficiencies. The system had gone from supporting zero children to 8 million over 10 years, she noted, which in global terms of poverty relief was something to be proud of.
Maybe Lizeka would like to get hold of her…