BASIC INCOME GRANT COALITION
Submission to the Department of Social Development
In response to the Consolidated Report of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System for South Africa
14 June 2002
Table Of Contents1. INTRODUCTION *
2. THE RIGHT TO SOCIAL SECURITY*
2.1 Constitutional and international law*
2.2 Relevant findings of the Committee of Inquiry*
2.3 Interpreting and applying the constitutional right of access to social security*
2.4 Assessing the Committee recommendations against constitutional standards*
2.4.1 "A co-ordinated and comprehensive programme"*
2.4.2 "Providing relief for people living in desperate need and living in intolerable conditions"*
2.4.3 "Reasonable implementation"*
2.4.4 "Availability of resources"*
2.4.5 "Progressive realisation"*
3. PROVIDING COMPREHENSIVE SOCIAL PROTECTION*
4. ASPECTS OF IMPLEMENTATION*
4.1 A phased approach to implementation*
4.2 Extension of grants to children in the first phase*
4.3 Preparations for the phasing in of the BIG*
4.4 The Fiscal Impact*
5. TAKING FORWARD THE COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS ON BIG*
The Basic Income Grant Coalition is a national coalition of civil society organisations that have come together to call for the introduction of a national Basic Income Grant (BIG) to address the poverty crisis in South Africa. We welcome the Committee of Inquiry's robust endorsement of a BIG and applaud the detailed analysis of poverty and unemployment on which its recommendations are based. The Committee's findings reinforce our shared commitment to working with government to make the grant a reality so that all South Africans may live in dignity.
The members of the Coalition are:
Age-in-Action, AIDS Consortium, Alliance for Children’s Entitlement to Social Security (ACESS), Black Sash, Children’s Institute, Church of the Province of South Africa, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Co-operative for Research and Education, Development Resources Centre, Diakonia Council of Churches, Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET), Gender Advocacy Programme (GAP), Community Law Centre (UWC), Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC), South African Council of Churches (SACC), South Africa New Economics Foundation (SANE), South African NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Young Christian Workers National Secretariat (YCW).
The members of the BIG Coalition have agreed on a platform for the introduction of a Basic Income Grant. The main thrust of the platform, which was launched in July 2001, is contained in Appendix A.
The BIG Coalition strongly supports the expeditious introduction of a Basic Income Grant, along the lines recommended by the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive Social Security System for South Africa, as an essential and affordable mechanism to reduce poverty and increase social justice in South Africa. This submission examines the scope of the right to social security in terms of the South African Constitution and international law and assesses the duties incumbent on the state arising from that right. It then discusses the importance of the comprehensive social protection package proposed by the Committee, in which BIG forms the central pillar. Finally, it analyses a number of specific issues related to the implementation and financing of the BIG.
2. THE RIGHT TO SOCIAL SECURITY
2.1 Constitutional and international law
Access to social assistance for those unable to support themselves and their dependants is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. It is one of a number of socio-economic rights recognised by the Constitutional Court as critical to the transformation of our society:
There can be no doubt that human dignity, freedom and equality, the foundational values of our society, are denied those who have no food, clothing or shelter. Affording socio-economic rights to all people therefore enables them to enjoy the other rights enshrined in Chapter 2 [the Bill of Rights]. The realisation of these rights is also key to the advancement of race and gender equality and the evolution of a society in which men and women are equally able to achieve their full potential.
Section 27(1) (c) of the Constitution entrenches "the right of everyone to have access to social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance." In terms of section 27(2) of the Constitution, "the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation" of this right and the other rights enshrined in s 27.
Furthermore, section 28(1) of the Constitution recognizes the particular rights of children under the age of 18. These include rights to "basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services." This imposes an additional burden on the state to prioritise the satisfaction of children’s social security needs.
Finally, in terms of section 7 (2) of the Constitution, the "state must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights."
South Africa is also obliged by international law to give effect to the right to social security in terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The latter Covenant is the leading international human rights treaty protecting socio-economic rights. The right to social security is protected in articles 9 and article 11 of the Covenant, which gives everyone the right to an adequate standard of living. Although SA has not yet ratified this treaty, it has signaled its intention to do so. The Covenant has already become an important source of guidance to the interpretation of our constitutional provisions on socio-economic rights (as in the Grootboom case, discussed below).
As the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, all law, policies and programmes that affect people’s access to social security must be measured against its requirements. The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security recognises this imperative by devoting a separate chapter to the constitutional framework for social security in South Africa.
2.2 Relevant findings of the Committee of Inquiry
The following findings of the Committee are of particular relevance to the constitutional obligation to ensure universal access to social security:
The Committee thus concludes that the current social security programmes "fail to satisfy the constitutional imperatives and thus make the state vulnerable to Constitutional Court challenges, and are clearly inadequate."
After reviewing extensive evidence, the Committee found that "one of the most effective means of reducing destitution and poverty is to provide some minimum support in the form of a social assistance grant." The major policy recommendation of the Committee is the introduction of a basic income grant. Its analysis indicates that such a grant "has the potential, more than any other possible social protection intervention, to reduce poverty and promote human development and sustainable livelihoods."
2.3 Interpreting and applying the constitutional right of access to social security
The Grootboom case is currently the leading precedent guiding the interpretation of the Constitution’s socio-economic rights provisions. In assessing whether the State has fulfilled its positive obligations to realise socio-economic rights, the Court will evaluate the ‘reasonableness’ of the measures adopted by the state to give effect to the rights. The following principles are key elements of the reasonableness test:
2.4 Assessing the Committee recommendations against constitutional standards
Applying the above principles listed in the Grootboom judgement to the findings of the Committee, it is evident that the BIG is the most effective and appropriate measure for fulfilling the right of access to social assistance.
2.4.1 "A co-ordinated and comprehensive programme"
The BIG represents a co-ordinated and comprehensive response to the current fragmented and inequitable system of social security. While expanding access to social insurance schemes (e.g. UIF, COIDA) and encouraging private savings (e.g. for retirement) are important components of a comprehensive social security system, factors such as high structural unemployment, the decline in formal sector employment and the deep levels of poverty in South Africa render these measures an inadequate response to the challenge of ensuring universal access to social security. In other words, they will not, on their own, be sufficient to ensure that all South Africans enjoy access to social security. Expanding access to social assistance must thus play a major role in a comprehensive social security strategy. As the Committee points out: "With full take-up of a Basic Income Grant, the number of poor South Africans excluded from the social security system is reduced to zero."
2.4.2 "Providing relief for people living in desperate need and living in intolerable conditions"
The BIG is designed to meet the basic subsistence needs of destitute groups. In its assessment of the impact of the BIG, the Committee concludes that the incidence of extreme poverty will be almost completely eliminated, and that the poverty gap will be reduced by 74%, as opposed to a mere 23% under the current grant system (or 37%, assuming full take-up of existing grants). Although it will be paid universally, the Committee notes that the grant could be recuperated from middle and upper income earners through the income tax system – a plan supported by the Coalition. People living in poverty will thus be the ultimate beneficiaries of the grant.
The BIG will help to guarantee a minimum acceptable standard of living for all – a key aim of comprehensive social protection and a goal of the White Paper for Social Welfare of 1997, which promised that "all South Africans [should] have a minimum income, sufficient to meet basic subsistence needs, and should not have to live below minimum acceptable standards." From the point of view of South Africa’s international law obligations, it will assist in fulfilling the minimum core obligations imposed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to ensure satisfaction of minimum essential levels of each of the Covenant rights.
The BIG will also benefit particularly vulnerable groups, such as women and children living in poverty. Child-specific grants are often assumed to be the most effective way of satisfying both this principle and the obligations in section 28(1) of the Constitution. However, this assumption overlooks the fact that entire households inevitably pool resources – including any grants earmarked for children. The BIG will generate far more benefits for children because it will substantially increase net household resources. Where possible, a child’s grant could be paid to his or her primary care-giver. As women are typically the primary care-givers for children, this will have the added benefit of increasing their control over household income and promoting a more equitable intra-household distribution of resources.
A number of difficult questions remain to be answered regarding the payment of grants, including how grants will be paid to child-headed households. It is therefore essential that consultative mechanisms are used to identify and address these matters. We return to this matter below.
2.4.3 "Reasonable implementation"
The design of the BIG means that it is able to meet the test of ‘reasonable implementation’ far more effectively than the current social grants system. The Committee points out that the current system does not meet its full potential because of the way it is structured. Some of the barriers to accessing social grants include means testing, rigid eligibility criteria contained in complex regulations and the high relative cost of applying for grants. According to Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI) estimates, only 43% of eligible individuals actually succeed in obtaining the grants for which they are qualified. While the take-up rate for the state old age pension is relatively high, the take-up rate for the child support grant is very low.
In contrast, the BIG will eliminate the perverse incentives of means testing and other eligibility requirements and will thus reduce administrative complexity and costs. The main administrative requirement will be devising a reliable identification and verification system. Moreover, the Committee’s research lends support to the BIG Coalition’s proposal that the tax system be used to recover progressively a substantial portion of the cost of the grant. As the Committee notes, SARS "is one of the most capable arms of government", so use of the tax system will facilitate the efficient administration of the grant.
2.4.4 "Availability of resources"
The BIG will have a significant developmental impact. As the Committee observes:
By providing such a minimum level of income support people will be empowered to take the risks needed to break out of the poverty cycle. Rather than serving as a disincentive to engaging in higher return activities, such a minimum (and irrevocable) grant could encourage risk taking and self-reliance. Such an income grant could thus become a springboard for development.
It also has the potential to support economic growth and job creation thus increasing the overall resources available to South African society. Research conducted by EPRI indicates that a well-managed BIG is affordable and consistent with fiscal responsibility. The Committee of Inquiry also concluded that the implementation of a universal system of social assistance grants is both feasible and affordable. We deal with the fiscal impact of introducing a BIG in the penultimate section of our submission.
2.4.5 "Progressive realisation"
While the right of access to social security can be progressively realised, it is important to note that the Constitutional Court has held that a significant number of desperate people in need must be afforded relief in the short term. In addition, section 237 of the Constitution requires that all constitutional obligations must be performed diligently and without undue delay.
Abolition of the means test is an important element of extending the constitutional right to ‘a larger number and wider range of people’, a requirement of the Grootboom judgement in relation to progressive realization, as well as eliminating administrative and other hurdles to access.
We accept that a phased approach may be necessary in order to put in place the necessary institutional and administrative arrangements for implementing the BIG. However, this should be tied to a concrete plan of action for its speedy and effective implementation, including clear goals and benchmarks for measuring progress. The plan should be devised and implemented through a transparent process involving full participation from all stakeholders. This is also in line with the interpretation of "progressive realisation" in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has been endorsed by the Constitutional Court.
In order to give ensure that the BIG fulfills its developmental potential, it should be implemented sooner rather than later. In the light of South Africa's constitutional and international law obligations to children, it is imperative that children's social security needs are prioritised. Taking into account the practical need to follow a phasing in approach when implementing the BIG, we endorse the recommendations of the South African Law Commission in its Discussion Paper on the Review of the Child Care Act to extend the child support grant to all children up to the age of 18 years and to abolish the means test. This is directly in line with the approach taken by the Committee.
3. PROVIDING COMPREHENSIVE SOCIAL PROTECTION
The Committee succinctly summarises the fragmented and partial nature of the social security system inherited from the apartheid era:
There is no income support programme for children between 7-18 years, adults between 18-59 years, and no general assistance for households where no-one is employed. Over 13 million people live below the poverty line and have no access to social security. As such SA’s social security system is neither comprehensive nor adequate.
In light of these shortcomings, the Committee rejects incremental and piecemeal reforms, proposing instead a comprehensive overhaul of the social security system through the introduction of a ‘Comprehensive Social Protection’ (CSP) package. This forms the bedrock and framework for all the proposals of the Committee, including the proposal for a basic income grant. The BIG Coalition welcomes this holistic approach.
Following the United Nations Commission on Social Development, the Committee adopts a definition of social protection designed to deal with the developmental challenges facing developing countries:
Comprehensive social protection for South Africa seeks to provide the basic means for all people living in the country to effectively participate and advance in social and economic life, and in turn to contribute to social and economic development.
Comprehensive social protection is broader than the traditional concept of social security, and incorporates developmental strategies designed to ensure, collectively, at least a minimum acceptable living standard for all citizens…
This definition of Comprehensive Social Protection motivates the Committee’s support for a comprehensive and integrated ‘package’ of social protection measures designed to stimulate development and raise the living standards of the majority of South Africans. The Committee argues that the need for a package is based on the understanding that certain basic requirements should be available to all and should not be allowed to be traded off against each other. "For example it is not acceptable to ask a poor parent to choose between attaining a certain level of household income or sending their children to school, though this is not an uncommon choice in reality."
The Committee also argues that a ‘package approach’ ensures that measures focused on reducing income, services and asset poverty are interlinked and complement each other. Everyone is thus guaranteed some cash support and a basic level of service delivery, without deficiencies in one area eroding benefits in another (e.g., no one would be prevented from securing adequate nutrition because available cash must be used to buy clean water). CSP is therefore designed to "better deliver on minimum acceptable living standard outcomes".
To achieve these objectives the Committee identifies four sets of interlinked and mutually reinforcing measures to address the crisis of poverty and inequality in our country:
The Committee argues that the first three sets of measures are the core elements of the CSP platform that "should be available to all South Africans (including certain categories of non-citizens). In general these components need to be established as a universal-as-possible package of income transfers, services and access provided in a non-work related manner and whose availability is not primarily dependent on an ability to pay."
The Committee identifies a specific set of interventions, including the BIG, that should comprise the basic CSP package. These appear in Table 7 of the Committee Report, which is reproduced below. The Committee recommends that some of these measures be universally available, while others will only be available to those who meet certain eligibility criteria.
Comprehensive social protection package and components
Universal/ Eligibility criteria (b)
Universal/ Eligibility criteria (c)
Eligibility (d) criteria
The Committee emphasises that decisive interventions to address income poverty can make a major impact in the short to medium term: "Income poverty measures are easier to roll out in the short term than more infrastructural and institutional intensive ‘capabilities’ and ‘asset’ poverty programmes." It is therefore critical to expedite such interventions.
The BIG Coalition wholeheartedly supports the overarching approach on Comprehensive Social Protection adopted by the Committee as being appropriate to the challenges confronting our country, particularly in relation to the crisis of poverty and inequality. We agree that measures taken to address income poverty will be most effective if they are linked to efforts to combat other forms of poverty. It is in this context that our detailed comments on the proposals relating to the Basic Income Grant need to be situated.
4. ASPECTS OF IMPLEMENTATION
4.1 A phased approach to implementation
The Committee identifies three options in relation to addressing income poverty. These are:
The Committee rejects Option 1 on the grounds that such an approach would be unconstitutional, that inadequate social protection will inter alia contribute to social instability, and that the country will ultimately have to bear the costs of not acting.
The Committee takes the view that Option 2 is not immediately feasible on the basis that time is required to set up the necessary institutional arrangements to implement comprehensive social protection.
It therefore proposes Option 3- that comprehensive social protection is implemented in distinct phases. Specifically in relation to BIG, the Committee recommends that it be implemented progressively in two phases. The first phase, 2002 to 2004, would rationalise and dramatically extend the existing system of grants, giving priority to "the most vulnerable, namely children up to the age of 18". In this phase the Committee proposes inter alia establishing a universal Child Support Grant for children under 18, as a key stepping stone for the introduction of a comprehensive BIG, or ‘solidarity grant’. Beginning in 2005/2006, an income support grant would then be extended to all South Africans.
The BIG Coalition acknowledges that substantial groundwork must be done before a BIG can be effectively implemented. Provided that there is a clear commitment to the introduction of a BIG, complete with viable deadlines, we would support a phased approach. If South Africa is to meet its Millennium Development Goals of eradicating absolute poverty by 2015, the BIG must be put in place early enough to allow any major delivery bottlenecks to be resolved in time. A more detailed implementation plan should therefore identify clear interim targets to ensure this timetable can be met.
4.2 Extension of grants to children in the first phase
Read with other sections of the report, the Recommendations in Chapter 5 clearly suggest that the intention of the Committee is to introduce a universal child support grant to children under the age of 18, during this first phase.
Nevertheless, the section of the Committee’s report dealing with Phase One lacks some precision. It calls on government to "simplify and eliminate the means test"- it is not clear for which grants the Committee wants to remove the means test (e.g., the Child Support Grant) and for which it wants to simplify the means test (e.g., the Old Age Pension). This has invited various interpretations of the Committee’s intent, and together with other vague statements in the Report, created unnecessary ambiguity. However, the report states unequivocally: "The Committee believes that the most efficient, developmentally most effective and fairest way forward is to abolish all means tests and to cover the costs through increases in tax."
The Committee rightly recognises the need to prioritise the social protection of children, but there are choices that must be made about how income support grants are extended to children. It is important for Cabinet to keep in mind the state's constitutional and international obligations when it decides on the exact nature of the implementation strategy, the timeframes and the amount of resources that will be allocated to ensuring that all children can access the grants in the short to medium term, particularly within the period proposed for the first phase.
When the Child Support Grant (CSG) was introduced in 1998, the government stipulated that the grant should reach 3 million children by April 2003. In spite of the fact that this target underestimated the number of children in need in the 0-7 age group, only 1.8 million children were benefiting from the grant by May 2002. Thus, over a period of 5 years, the Department has managed to achieve just over half of the target. In order to reach the target of 3 million by April 2003, the Department will need to process 1.2 million children in one year.
Given the Committee’s findings with regard to poverty and the gross inadequacy of the current social security system, the state will need to greatly improve the uptake of the child support grant – well beyond its original targets – in order to avoid a constitutional challenge and to fulfil the country's obligations in terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. If this goal is to be achieved, far more resources must be allocated to ensuring that children can access the child support grant.
Furthermore, the government’s implementation strategy will determine the likely improvement in the take up rate. Retaining the means test and gradually increasing the age limitation would complicate administration and unnecessarily impede both take-up and delivery. Research has shown that the means test frequently prevents the poorest and most vulnerable households from accessing social grants. It is a tragic irony that the very mechanism that is meant to "target" grants to poor communities actually denies benefits to the most needy. This approach could even give rise to constitutional challenges based on unfair discrimination. On the other hand, abolishing the means test and making the grant available to all children under 18, as is proposed by the Committee, would be the most effective way of reaching all children in need.
The BIG Coalition therefore strongly endorses the universal extension of the CSG in the first phase to all children under 18, with effect from 2003. Moreover, we believe that this approach is entirely consistent with the logic of the Committee’s report, given its repeated emphasis on the role of means testing in preventing the neediest households from accessing social grants.
The idea of comprehensive social protection – and specifically a BIG – requires a new way of administering grants, one that is administratively less cumbersome. We must confront this challenge as quickly and as vigorously as possible to permit the design and implementation of an effective system. Further research and analysis is required to identify existing barriers to the delivery of the CSG and to eliminate these obstacles. The implementation of the extended CSG will provide valuable research and operational data that will lay the foundation for the introduction of the BIG to all adults and children in South Africa.
This will also be an opportunity to resolve financing issues. The extension of the CSG to all children under 18 should be accompanied by mechanisms to recover the grant from more affluent households through the income tax system. This will not only enhance the affordability of the grant, it will also promote a more equitable distribution of income.
We submit that a period of three years is more than adequate as a preparatory phase and that a universal BIG should be in place by 2006 at the latest. We believe that this is the ultimately the best way of ensuring that children’s social security needs are reliably and sustainably prioritised.
4.3 Preparations for the phasing in of the BIG
Phase One must also be used to identify and address obstacles to the roll-out of the BIG so that government will be ready to launch the grant by 2006. The period 2002 –2005 must be used to put in place the institutional measures and processes necessary for the smooth administration of the BIG. This includes the registration of both adults and children, which is essential not only for social development but also for the efficient functioning of the Department of Home Affairs. Registration is a right of citizenship. The BIG Coalition is especially concerned by the lack of attention given to the fact that many South Africans, especially in poorer communities, do not have identity documents or birth certificates. Without identity documents, they cannot access many of the various components of the social security package; free water; education; grants etc. Well managed and resourced campaigns to register people, especially in rural areas, must be initiated as an urgent priority.
Money has been already allocated for universal voter registration, which requires potential voters to hold a current identity document. With minimal additional effort and expenditure, this could be the basis for a universal registration campaign, to include children and other non-voters. Such a drive would also assist Home Affairs to complete its electronic Documentation Management System (e-DMS) and Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). These two databases will make possible the new Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS). This "smart card" based identification system is expected to offer the most cost-effective platform for the future administration and delivery of social grants.
During the initial phase, government will also need to extend its Post Bank infrastructure, and negotiate with other potential delivery agents to develop a reliable payment infrastructure. Education and training programmes will need to be developed and implemented to inform both civil servants and the general public about the grant, its administration and its responsible use. Existing inter-departmental forums -- such as the social cluster and the DG’s forum -- should identify aspects of implementation requiring interdepartmental co-operation and develop appropriate procedures to deal with these matters.
These processes can and must happen concurrently if we are to meet our commitments in terms of the United Nations Millennium Declaration to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. It will take some time for the developmental impact of this programme to be felt, and there will inevitably be technical issues to resolve.
4.4 The Fiscal Impact
The Committee does not fully assess the fiscal impact of the BIG as it had no mandate to consider changes to the tax structure. However, research commissioned by the Committee shows that the net cost of the BIG is less than R24 billion -- an amount roughly equal to the income tax cuts of the past two years. Fiscal impact analysis shows that South Africa’s tax structure can afford the cost of the grant without undermining the country’s international competitiveness.
In evaluating the affordability of a BIG, it is important to distinguish between gross and net costs. Gross costs include the cost of grants paid to people who in turn repay it immediately through higher taxes. The net cost is the amount of transfers to the poor and near poor that are actually retained for increased consumption by the grant recipients. With an estimated South African population in March 2001 of 44.9 million people, of which 8.4 million people are eligible for existing social security programmes, a basic income grant of R100 per month would result in a gross cost of R43.8 billion. Of this amount, R22.2 billion would go to households in the top three income quintiles (i.e., the wealthiest 60 percent of households). Adjustments to the income tax structure can reclaim most of these transfers without significantly affecting the vertical equity of the net tax burden. Adjusting the tax rates and income thresholds at lower income levels gradually recuperates the grant from middle and upper income earners. The value-added tax, in turn, recovers a significant portion of the expenditure associated with the net transfers. Micro-simulations of various tax adjustment options yield an average recuperation of R16.7 billion through the income tax, and R3.3 billion through the value added tax. As a result, the net cost of the BIG is estimated at R23.9 billion.
South Africa currently collects a relatively small percentage of national income through taxation. A survey recently published by EPRI found that, in comparison with other developing countries, South Africa collects up to seven percent of national income (or R70 billion) less than would be expected given the nation’s economic characteristics. This analysis corroborates the findings of research conducted by other institutions. South Africa ranks as the fifth most under-taxed developing country, using EPRI's tax capacity measure. Financing the BIG only requires a tax increase equal to about two percent of national income. This is clearly affordable.
Using the tax system to finance BIG raises a further consideration for a phased approach to implementation. When the BIG is introduced in the second phase (from 2005/2006), it will be necessary to extend access to all eligible people at once in order to justify the associated tax increases.
Although the Minister of Finance has admitted the BIG might be affordable now, he has questioned its long term affordability. However, comprehensive social security reform will generate both developmental growth and fiscal dividends, making the BIG increasingly affordable in the long term. Growth has two effects on the fiscal impact of the BIG. First, it raises overall national income, and thus expands the capacity of the economy to support fiscal expenditure. Second, as lower income households realise the benefits of the BIG and begin to improve their living standards and income levels, they will be able to keep less and less of the BIG. This lowers the overall net cost of the grant over time. The fiscal dividend results from the BIG's capacity to promote more efficient delivery of social services. Higher living standards raise the efficiency of the educational system, reducing the repeat rate and thus economising on educational resources. Improved nutrition raises lifetime health levels, reducing the strain on the public health system. The medium-to-long term impact of the BIG is likely to reduce the cost pressure on several social sectors, resulting in a reduction in the net fiscal impact of the grant.
The BIG represents a substantial commitment of fiscal resources. However, a well-managed programme is affordable and consistent with fiscal responsibility. South Africa’s tax structure has the potential to finance the entire cost of the programme without recourse to deficit spending. The long-term growth implications of the developmental impact further support macroeconomic stability and fiscal affordability.
5. TAKING FORWARD THE COMMITTEE’S RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE BIG
The Coalition is convinced that if the government accepts the Committee’s recommendations on the phased introduction of a Basic Income Grant, the capacity can be built to implement this decision effectively within the timeframes proposed by the Committee. We commit ourselves as organisations representing the bulk of organised civil society in the country to work with government to make this proposal succeed. This is not an abstract commitment, but reflects our determination to ensure that we work in partnership with government to address the extreme poverty facing millions in South Africa.
There are a number of issues of detail arising from the Committee’s report which will have to be addressed if the government decides to accept in principle the recommendations on social security and on social grants in particular. Satisfactory resolution of these issues will need active collaboration between government and civil society.
Issues requiring further discussion and clarity include:
No doubt other concerns will emerge in the course of detailed engagement on the proposals. However, we are convinced that if we mobilise the necessary national will to address these issues, solutions can be found to all of them. Indeed the elements of an approach on most of these issues is contained in the Committee report. In this respect the report is a very useful starting point.
If government makes a strong and conspicuous commitment to implementing the bold vision articulated by the Committee, the energies of all stakeholders will be focused on resolving difficult questions such as those mentioned above. If not, those opposed to transformation will see this as an opportunity to exaggerate problems as an excuse for inaction. This would be a recipe for paralysis. Option 1, which was rejected by the Committee as both unconstitutional and socially irresponsible, would prevail by default. This would be a huge blow to millions of our people -- over half the population -- who currently live in poverty.
It is in this spirit that we want to offer the resources and experience of the organisations represented in the Coalition to help government make the Committee’s vision a reality. We propose that a consultative process be set up to allow for detailed interaction on the types of practical considerations outlined above, to ensure that implementation of the proposals involves all stakeholders in resolving many of the practical problems which will no doubt arise. Given the short to medium term nature of the process, it is probably advisable to set up a standing committee involving civil society and government, which can assist in steering the process through its various phases.
The success of South Africa’s transition to democracy and the dismantling of apartheid will ultimately be judged by our capacity to address apartheid’s legacies of poverty, inequality and underdevelopment. As the Reconstruction and Development Programme observed: "No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remains in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life. Attacking poverty and deprivation must therefore be the first priority of our democratic Government."
For this reason, the publication of the Committee of Inquiry's report represents one of the most significant events in the life of our nation since the first democratic elections in 1994. It marks a critical moment in the humanisation of South African society. Having completed much of the legislative reform necessary to ensure that all South Africans have the right to be free, we must now make certain that everyone has the means to be free. The appointment of the Committee demonstrated the government’s commitment to satisfying everyone’s constitutional right to social security, including appropriate social assistance.
The Committee has done an excellent job. It has commissioned extensive research, solicited the views of a wide range of stakeholders, and synthesised a desirable and attainable vision of a comprehensive social protection package that can weave a tighter and stronger social safety net for all South Africans. The BIG is the keystone of this package. It is the component that can be most expeditiously implemented and can most effectively combat abject poverty. The national debate on social security should now shift from whether we implement a Basic Income Grant to how we do so quickly, efficiently and in a manner that gives priority to children.
APPENDIX A: History and Platform of the BIG Coalition
The idea of a universal social grant has been growing in popularity for a number of years. It was proposed by labour at the 1998 Presidential Job Summit and endorsed in one form or another by Black Sash the Anglican Church, ESSET, SANE and YCW by the end of 2000. The BIG Coalition was formed in June 2001 to co-ordinate the efforts of these groups, to develop a common platform, and to build popular support for the grant. The Coalition promotes consultation, research and the sharing of information on various aspects of a BIG. Its platform states:
"Poverty and inequality pose the greatest threat to South Africa’s young democracy. A bold initiative is urgently needed to confront this challenge. At least 22 million people in South Africa--well over half the population--live in abject poverty. On average, they survive on R144 per person per month."
A Basic Income Grant would provide rapid and sustained relief to all South Africans by:
The Basic Income Grant should be founded on the following fundamental principles:
Universal Coverage: It should be available to everyone, from cradle to grave, and should not be subject to a means test.
Relationship to existing grants: It should expand the social security net. No individual should receive less in social and assistance grants than before the introduction of the Basic Income Grant.
Amount: The grant should be no less than R100 per person per month on introduction and should be inflation indexed.
Delivery Mechanisms: Payments should be facilitated through Public Institutions. Using community Post Banks would have the additional benefit of enhancing community access to much-needed banking services.
Financing: A substantial portion of the cost of the grant should be recovered progressively through the tax system. This would demonstrate solidarity by all South Africans in efforts to eliminate poverty. The remaining cost should be borne by the fiscus. A range of new measures should be introduced to increase revenue so that the additional cost can be accommodated without squeezing out other social expenditure.