The Gendered Analysis and Impact of the Child Support Grant in Doornkop, Soweto

​Findings of research study​


The Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), today (06 March 2012) released the findings of a gender applied research study of one of South Africa’s largest social protection programmes, the Child Support Grant (CSG).
The research survey was conducted by Leila Patel, Director of the CSDA and Professor of Social Development studies at the University together with Tessa Hochfeld and Jacqueline Moodley, both CSDA researchers.
Key findings
Since the introduction of the Child Support Grant (CSG) in 1998, the majority of the beneficiaries are now women. The grant reaches 10.7 million children which makes up approximately 55 percent of the total number of children in South Africa. The CSG is internationally recognized to be an innovative intervention to reduce poverty and promote child well-being.
The aim of the study was to assess the gendered impact of the CSG in Doornkop, Soweto, which is a poor urban community. A survey of 343 households was conducted which was systematically sampled. The findings may be generalized to other poor urban areas with high uptake levels of the CSG. This report contains the findings and conclusions of the study which are briefly summarized below.
A total of 81.9 percent of the households surveyed received one or more CSGs with an average of 2.2 CSGs per household. CSG beneficiaries were mainly younger women between 16 and 40 years (62 percent), who have a secondary education (55.6 percent), and are likely to be unmarried (48 percent) and the head of their households (52 percent).
The grant is well targeted at poor households and particularly the very poorest. The CSG is the only regular source of income in these households complemented by other diverse sources of income such as pensions and disability grants (33.5 percent), small business activities (24.1 percent), casual work (23.7 percent), and limited material and in-kind support from family and external agencies (17.4 percent). Some households receive private maintenance from the fathers of the children (24.5 percent) who are not living with them although many fathers do not pay maintenance (60.8 percent). Only 12.5 percent of CSG beneficiaries were employed. High unemployment among CSG beneficiaries is closely associated with high overall female unemployment nationally and the huge domestic and care responsibilities of women with young children.​
Although the amount of the grant is small, it plays a key role in reducing income poverty among the very poor and especially in woman headed households. The gendered nature of poverty and the increasing financial and care burdens that women face is highlighted by the findings. The CSG also has other positive multiplier effects on for example, household food security, school attendance and performance, improved nutrition of children, care of children, family cohesion, access to services and the empowerment of women. CSG beneficiaries cared mostly for their biological children (60 percent) while 18.4 percent cared for biological grandchildren and 16.1 percent for other relatives. An overwhelming majority of beneficiary children lived with the caregiver in the household (92.2 percent). This indicates that children are cared for in their family of origin and in the extended family system thereby illustrating a high level of family cohesion. Beneficiaries were in the main very positive about the impact of the CSG on their lives. They indicated that they would not be able to survive without the grant (64.5 percent), that they are now better able to care for their children (79 percent) and that the CSG has improved their lives (82.3 percent).
Grant monies are mainly used for food (74.2 percent) and some basic non-food items such as school fees and uniforms (64.9 percent), health and transport (42.9 percent) and to some extent to reduce indebtedness (21.7 percent) and to build up savings (17.1 percent) to protect themselves against risk. Further, CSG respondents were positively engaged in care activities with the children often or on a daily basis such as helping with school work (64 percent) and playing with or reading to them (58 percent). Almost all CSG children were enrolled in school and attended school regularly (73.5 percent) with the majority having never failed a grade (74.1 percent). Children appeared to be in good health (91.6 percent), were immunized (96.7 percent) and lived in households with very good access to basic services such as water, sanitation and electricity. Just over half of CSG children lived within walking distance of their school. Some children did not have access to free school uniforms (16.5 percent) and the primary school nutrition programme (24.3 percent). Beneficiaries also spent grant monies on health, transport, electricity and water that should be freely available to them. Such expenditure erodes the value of the grant which is largely due to inefficiencies in the delivery of public services and in gaining access to some of the free services.​
The CSG enhances women’s power and control over household decision-making in financial matters, general household spending and in relation to child well-being. Women’s increased capability to make decisions and to exercise freedom of choice about how the grant is spent enabled them to generate valuable outcomes that are important to the quality of their lives and that of their children. In this respect we contend that the CSG contributes directly to a sense of empowerment of female grant beneficiaries and that it has some positive social transformative effects. There is some evidence that the receipt of the CSG may have a negative impact on the payment of maintenance by the fathers of the children. This is a worrying finding that needs further empirical investigation. However, there is some evidence in the study of men’s positive engagement in family relationships especially in providing help with children.
Policy implications
In order to fully understand the role that the CSG plays in the lives of poor families and households with children, a broad approach is needed that takes account of the multidimensional and gendered nature of poverty. Not only does the CSG contribute to reducing income poverty and vulnerability, it also has other multiplier effects that are not always taken into account when evaluating the CSG. Although the CSG was not designed to promote gender equality, its potential to contribute to social transformation should not be overlooked. Further, women’s contribution to the care economy and in subsidising social welfare programmes remains invisible. A better understanding is needed of the contribution of the CSG as a public good and a social investment in future generations. Those who argue that the grant is a disincentive to work lose sight of the grave domestic and care burdens of poor women who are in the forefront of the struggle for survival without adequate support. The CSG is therefore a social investment that builds human capabilities rather than a drain on public resources. The costs today are outweighed by the benefits that will accrue to society in future years.
Despite evidence to the contrary, dominant negative social discourses about the CSG, namely that it fosters dependency on the state or that grants are abused by beneficiaries and encourages teenage pregnancies, serve to undermine beneficiaries’ and children’s rights to social assistance guaranteed by South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Instead, negative beliefs about the CSG induce unnecessary fears among beneficiaries that the grant may be stopped. It stigmatises women for relying on grants and it may lead to those not receiving the grant looking down on those who get it. Negative discourses of this nature may also be associated with a growing conservative antiwelfare ideology that seems to be taking root in South Africa. For some, these views are associated with the view that minimal state intervention in social welfare is more desirable and that over emphasize individual explanations for poverty rather than structural explanations. All societies invest to varying degrees in the welfare of their people to alleviate poverty, prevent poverty, overcome social divisions and inequalities and promote social and economic development. The extent to which they do so depends on their values and the vision of the type of society that they wish to build. The CSG contributes to the building of a basic minimum level below which nobody should fall in the society. In this way the CSG aids in the creation of a fairer, more inclusive, gender-sensitive and a more just society that promotes both sustainable social development and economic growth.
A few practical steps to improve the gendered impact of the CSG and child well-being are recommended.
  • It is important to build on and improve the workings of existing social programmes to realise the synergies between them in both the governmental and nongovernmental sectors.
  • The scaling up of coverage and access to basic services will go a long way in improving the impact of the CSG. An example is the City of Johannesburg’s social package (free water, electricity and sanitation services) which has been extended to all CSG beneficiaries.
  • Improved access of CSG beneficiaries to free school uniforms, school nutrition programmes and free schooling is needed.
  • A concerted effort is needed to facilitate birth registrations of eligible children as not having birth certificates prevents them from claiming their rights.
  • The private maintenance system still continues to fail South Africa’s children. Improvements are needed in the maintenance court system.
  • It is crucial that all South Africans engage in dialogue about the meaning of fatherhood, the role and contribution of fathers to their children, and to continuing gender inequality. Public education programmes that engage constructively with both men and women about these issues are needed.
  • Public and private service providers in Doornkop need to improve the coordination of services and find innovative ways of working with the community to address the challenges that they face.
Leila Patel
Leila Patel, Director of the CSDA and Professor of Social Development studies at the University


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