Establishing Social Protection and Employment Programmes

By Fiona Wakelin

In his Letter to the Nation, written on July 10, His Excellency, President Ramaphosa, focuses on Mandela Month, democracy and overcoming poverty as an act of justice – invoking the words of Madiba – “while poverty persists, there is no true freedom”. His Excellency recalls that in 2005, at the launch of a global anti-poverty campaign, President Mandela said that overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity: “It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

H.E Ramaphosa goes on to highlight the government’s social protection programmes, which have provided vital support to millions of South Africans: “As we work to rebuild the economy, to create more employment and open opportunities for emerging businesses, we will continue to invest in the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. The funds we spend on social protection are not wasted; they make a real difference in people’s lives, both now and into the future.

Social protection in South Africa goes far beyond the provision of social grants for the elderly, children, people with disabilities and military veterans. It goes beyond the work of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which provides income support for unemployed workers, or the Compensation Fund, which supports those involved in workplace accidents. “It encompasses all support provided to South Africans, mainly the poor, through what has become known as the ‘social wage’. This includes the provision of free basic services, health care, basic education, higher education, social housing and transport,” – President Ramaphosa.

When debt servicing costs are excluded, more than half of government’s budget is spent on the social wage – funding free basic services to just over 11 million households. This enables poor people to access electricity, water, sanitation, and other services. “Basic education is provided to over 13 million learners, many of whom attend no-fee schools. Health care is provided for the 50 million South Africans that don’t have private health insurance. Then there are the millions of families whose lives have been changed through the provision of subsidised housing. Social protection includes public and social employment programmes, which provide unemployed people with income, work experience and training opportunities. Recent programmes have shown great success as pathways for people into employment or other ways to earn a livelihood,” – His Excellency.

President Ramaphosa references a paper published in 2014 by the Brookings Institute which noted that, “social assistance may well be just what many in South Africa need, enabling them to actively pursue a job search, move out of a poverty trap, and take control of and direct their futures.” He acknowledges that this, on its own, however, will not end poverty or inequality in South Africa – what we really need is an economy that attracts investment and creates new jobs.

“Because expansion of social protection can only take place at the pace and scale the fiscus can afford, we are focused on growing our economy and developing sustainable solutions to support pro-poor spending. Through an integrated and comprehensive system of social support, we are not only meeting our collective responsibility to the most vulnerable in society. We are also investing in our country’s future,” – President Ramaphosa.

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