Child support grants fight poverty

Tessa Hochfeld was a guest researcher at NAI in late 2012. Her research focuses on the social impact of cash transfers in South Africa, particularly the Child Support Grant (CSG).

Fifty-five per cent of South Africa’s children (11 million) receive the monthly CSG.

− One has to apply for the grant. Eligibility depends on household income, but is generously appraised in order to include people. Cash transfers to fight poverty in other developing countries can be strictly targeted at certain groups and thus tend to exclude many of those in need, says Tessa Hochfeld.

The grant goes to the daily caregiver of the child, not the biological mother or the household (although the caregiver can be the biological mother or grandmother). The money therefore ‘follows the child’. This is very important in a country with a high rate of mobility. In South Africa, migrant work is common and many children grow up with other relatives or neighbours when their parents move to work in the cities.

− Naturally, the economic effect of a monthly grant of 280 Rands is modest, but important social improvements can be achieved, says Tessa Hochfeld.

In South Africa, school enrolment has not been a problem, but the drop-out rate or irregular attendance rate is high. The grant allows pupils to pay for transport or buy uniforms, and children are thus supported to stay in school. The CSG has also contributed to improved food security and a modest reduction in household poverty.

Almost all the caregiver recipients are women. The grant makes a huge difference to those without other sources of income or with irregular or unreliable income (such as a casual labourer). Research shows that caregivers with grants spend more time with the children, not only feeding them, but also playing with them, supervising them, and engaging with them in other social care activities. This outcome is related to the opportunities that open up to caregivers when there is some relief of severe financial stress and the burden of household management with minimal resources. The grant is also “labour promoting,” in that the money is enough to pay the bus fare to a job interview or to start up a small business.

− The grant gives women options. They don’t have to stay with a man they don’t like for economic reasons, says Tessa Hochfeld.

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