Redefining the ‘affordability’ of social assistance programmes: The Child Support Grant in South Africa, 1998-2014

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Jeremy Seekings
The South African Child Support Grant (CSG) is an example of a social assistance programme that, despite chronic anxieties about affordability, expanded rapidly through parametric reforms, primarily of the age limit. The initial concern about affordability was rooted in a severe fiscal crisis facing the South African state in the mid-1990s. This resulted in widespread (but not total) political agreement that the initial programme should be modest. The subsequent improvement in public finances meant that affordability concerns became less binding, and affordability was redefined. Political pressures to address the enduring problem of poverty, and to be seen to do so, resulted in the steady expansion of the programme. Governments make choices about programmes such as the CSG, and these choices are ultimately political. But sometimes fiscal conditions frame the choices in ways that are very likely to result in political near-consensus against programmatic expansion. The ‘affordability’ of social assistance programmes entails a mix of fiscal concerns with political factors.
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