Hunger vs malnutrition: why South Africa’s child grants aren’t enough
This World Hunger Day, Thabo Molelekwa looks at why South Africa’s social grants are just not enough for indigent families to curb malnutrition.
South Africa’s Child Support Grant was introduced in 1998 with the objective of improving the wellbeing of young children, including reducing their malnutrition. But surveys show that there has been no shift in child malnutrition rates since the 1990s, says Dr Stephen Devereux, co-director of the Centre for Social Protection Institute of Development Studies (IDS).
The Food Security South Africa working paper (No1) titled “Why does malnutrition persist in South Africa despite social grants?” mentions that Social grants are essential to finance food consumption and reduce hunger in poor households. But the determinants of nutrition status are more complex than food consumption. While child hunger, according to the document, has “more than halved since the turn of the millennium”, it is
It is a cold Wednesday afternoon in Vosloorus informal settlements in Johannesburg’s East Rand as winter season is around the corner in South Africa.
Women from this area spoke to Health-e News about their struggle to raise children on the R400 child support grant, and the kind of foods they afford to buy with it.
Leaning against the wall of her shack, a 58-year-old Nonosisi Maseko explains: “It really hard but I try to make ends meet from my grandson’s grant. He is doing Grade one. I pay school transport R250 per month, and then we buy food from that money. We don’t have any other income in this house,” says Maseko.
According to Maseko, she can afford to buy 5kg maize meal, 2litre cooking oil, 10kg of potatoes and a sunlight soap which they use to bath and for doing laundry.
She says she buys food so that they can eat, it doesn’t matter how nutritious the food is.
“What matters is to go to bed with a full stomach,” she said to Health-e News.
According to Stats SA’s General Household Survey, one in five South Africans skip meals and/or reduce the size of their meals at least five days each month (Oxfam, 2014: 28). Rising costs of living, including rising prices of basic food items, also reduce dietary diversity in poor households, as more of their budget is of necessity allocated to staple foods such as bread and maize-meal, leaving less to spend on other food groups.
Just a block away from Maseko’s house is Ntombizanele Mbuweni’s house who is single parent and support a family of five from one CSG.
Taking a deep breath, she said: “We sometimes go to bed on an empty stomach, more especially towards end of the month.” She stood up and opened a Tupperware of macaroni.
“Among other food, this is what I buy to sustain ourselves for the month,” she says.
Mbuweni sometimes go to the nearby Spar to get expired rolls to feed her children. As she steps to the outside she points to a giant nylon sack full of boxes. “I also sell boxes to the nearby scrap yard where I only make not more than R70 it depends on how many kgs are they when they are weighed,” she says.
“It costs over R600 per month to buy a nutritious balanced diet for a child, so the child support grant could pay for 2/3 of a healthy diet for the child, if all the grant money was spent only on food for the child,” says Devereux, adding that “in reality the grant is collected by an adult in the family, usually the child’s mother, and it is spent on many needs, not only food, and on other family members, not only the child.”
According to Stats SA (2012), social grants contribute 42% of household income in poor families, making grants the most important source of income, since wages contribute only 32%.
Devereux says families that survive on social grants have to ration their consumption of basic needs, including food.
“So they often go hungry, especially at the end of the month before the grants are paid. Indicators of malnutrition, such as stunting [children that are too short for their age] are higher in poor households than richer households,” says Devereux.
The Food security SA working paper suggests that for the country to eradicate malnutrition, in terms of implications for policy, social transfers should be substantially increased and index–linked to the cost of a nutritious food basket. The numbers are also effected adversely by periods of drought and high price inflation. Since social grants on their own are not enough to break the intergenerational transmission of malnutrition, “cash plus” models should be explored, that link cash transfers to access to basic services such as health, education, and social services.