Cape Town - While many have hailed the overall decline in poverty outlined in the recent Poverty Trends report released by StatsSA, the report also reveals that most children in South Africa are still living below the poverty line and have seen the least improvement of all the age groups.
“It is very clear that the highest levels of poverty are among the younger sections of the population,” the report says. “Not only was the poverty headcount highest in this age cohort (people 17 and younger), but the poverty gap and severity of poverty measures were also highest.”
The figures say that almost 56 percent of children in South Africa live below the poverty line, whereas for most age groups considered adults or the elderly, percentages remain in the 30s. The report also showed a strong link between increased level of education and decreased levels of poverty, saying there were “stark differences when one examines poverty status according to the education status of individuals”.
This means that interventions which give children in poor households better access to quality education, could break the cycle of poverty
According to the South African Child Gauge of last year, “many children in South Africa have to travel long distances to school. One in six children lives far from their primary school, and one in five lives far from their high school.”
The gauge does say, however, that significant strides have been made “despite the barriers” and that by 2011, the gross attendance rate was at 97 percent. But, it adds, “this does not necessarily translate into improved education outcomes or progress through school”.
Another intervention that could break the cycle of poverty is the child support grant (R310 a month), but experts differ on the true impact of the grant.
“There is substantial evidence that grants, including the child support grant, are being spent on food, education and basic goods and services,” said Katherine Hall, a senior researcher at the Children’s Institute, adding that the evidence showed that the grant not only helped to realise children’s rights to social assistance, but was also associated with improved nutritional, health and education outcomes.
However, Isobel Frye, director of the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, said: “The value of the grant is not enough to do more than impact on destitution. The value of the grant is still significantly lower than the food poverty line, as no indexing is done between needs and the value of the grant, and this also speaks to the high number of children still living in poverty.
And, she said, “Grant income is also often the main source of regular income into households and so its value is diluted among the whole household and is seldom used for the needs solely of the beneficiary.”
Elizabeth Dlelembe, a grandmother of a 10 month old boy in Khayelitsha, said: “The grant is better than nothing but because my daughter couldn’t breast-feed, she spends the grant on one or two tins of formula and then it is finished.”