Maverick Citizen

FUNDING CRISIS

‘What about the children, the disabled, the mentally ill?’ NPOs blast Gauteng’s reconfigured social welfare budget

‘What about the children, the disabled, the mentally ill?’ NPOs blast Gauteng’s reconfigured social welfare budget
Managers and staff from non-profit organisations picket outside the Gauteng social development department's regional office in Germiston, following the department's announcement of its reprioritisation strategy. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

The Gauteng social development department is under fire as more money is allocated to the treatment of substance abuse. Now welfare organisations say they weren’t properly consulted and that budget cuts will result in job losses and reduced services to the people in their care

Social welfare organisations gathered outside the Gauteng department of social development’s (DSD) offices in Germiston on Wednesday to protest against a restructured budget that they say will slash funds for children, the elderly, the disabled, and those living with HIV and Aids. 

Many said they were not properly consulted about the funding changes and that they were being introduced in “a top-down approach”. Others said they were concerned they would be forced to cut staff, which would mean that the people they served would suffer the most.

“The people we serve are going to suffer the wrath of all of this,” one said. 

There are also concerns about signing the DSD’s service-level agreements (SLAs) on Friday, with some saying they felt they had their backs to a wall.

The new budget allocations came into effect on 1 April, but were only partly communicated to staffers at a Gallagher Estate function on 5 April by Mbali Hlophe, Gauteng MEC for social development, agriculture, rural development and environment. The department stated on 9 April that the overall R2.3-billion budget for non-profit organisations (NPOs) was not being cut, but was being “reconfigured” to respond to Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi’s “identified priorities”, especially substance abuse treatment. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Billions of rands, CCTVs, drones, helicopters… inside Panyaza Lesufi’s grand plan to tackle crime in Gauteng

The picketers handed a memorandum outlining their complaints to a DSD representative on Friday.

Hlophe’s spokesperson, Nkosana Mtolo, confirmed the department was aware of the picket and the memorandum.

“The plan is to formally respond to all memorandums received and a follow-up meeting will be arranged should a need arise or such request be made.” 

‘There was no warning’

Anubha Mackerdhuj, director of Alberton Child Welfare, said they were told that the meeting with Hlophe on 5 April “was a consultation meeting”.

“It was no consultation session; it was a top-down approach,” she said.

“The information that we received is that all NPOs would have a cut in their budget,” she said, adding they were informed that 50% of all social workers would not be subsidised by the DSD. 

When asked why the Gauteng social development department is cutting NPOs’ funding, provincial MEC for social development Mbali Hlophe reportedly only indicated that their funding had been reprioritised to the drug and substance abuse programme. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

“The Gauteng government has now relooked at priorities and indicated that priorities are substance abuse, homeless, empowerment programmes, and food security,” she said. 

Mackerdhuj said she agreed that these were priorities, but disagreed with cutting funding for others. 

“You can’t actually say children, the disabled, the mentally ill, and other sectors are not a priority, because who is going to take care of them?” she said. 

Sikhumbuzo Alexander, who works at the Siphiwe drop-in centre in Thembisa, said he was frustrated that the department informed NPOs of the decision after it had been made rather than consulting them during the decision-making process.

“They are saying we are in partnership. There is no partnership,” he said. “If you are partners, you discuss before you make a decision.”

Mtolo said the department’s 9 April statement addressed how the department had communicated with NPOs about budget cuts, but it does not indicate any engagement beyond the 5 April meeting.

One NPO manager who asked not to be identified for fear of victimisation described the department as a dictatorship. “We arrived and they just told us that our budget will be cut. The MEC left the meeting despite many of us not having a chance to voice our concerns.”

Israel Sekgale, a social work supervisor at Greater Benoni Child Welfare, described the budget cut as “nonsense”. “If we have to be brutally honest, they normally inform us on what their way forward is and they never really engage with us,” he said. 

Sekgale said he was struggling to understand the rationale for budget cuts. “In most cases, we deliver more than what the DSD itself delivers. So, we don’t know what is guiding them or what informed them to make this kind of decision.”

Jolene Fouché, a social auxiliary worker at Springs and Kwa-Thema Child Welfare, echoed other managers and workers about the department’s lack of communication. 

“I don’t think we were warned, and there were no meetings held to say, listen if we are going to cut you, how are we going to prioritise the service delivery areas because we service big areas. If they cut us, what is going to happen?”

‘There is no plan’

Viwe Ndzuzo, a social worker at Alberton Child Welfare, described the situation as unfair and abrupt. 

“They are taking away money from us without a plan. They haven’t mentioned anything at all about the children. Who is going to take over, when or how?” she said. 

Budget cuts would likely lead to retrenchments, leaving fewer workers but the same amount of work, she said. 

“How do you now provide an effective service to these people? The people we serve are going to suffer the wrath of all of this,” Ndzuzo said. 

Alberton Child Welfare’s social workers had a caseload of 700 children in foster care or institutional care.

Mackerdhuj said: “We actually service the disadvantaged in the community, especially those children that have been abused, neglected, abandoned, and orphaned. If we don’t do it, who is going to afford those services to the children and out there in the community?” 

Many NPOs will soon have to sign service level agreements, agreeing to budget cuts. ‘This means that there’ll be a loss of jobs for us and our staff members, there’ll be a loss of services for my beneficiaries,’ said Prudence Maluka, a worker at the Ekurhuleni Aftercare Centre. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

Alexander said his centre offered psychosocial services, food relief for vulnerable households and aftercare for children living in informal settlements. They served 500 people in Thembisa and 1,700 people in Ekurhuleni.

“Now if those people are not going to get the services that they were getting for many years, it is going to create more problems and we don’t know where they will get help from going forward,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Analysis: Gauteng 2013/14 provincial budget

Mxolisi Matina, MD of Masibambaneni in Delmore Park, said the new budget would result in significant job losses and would affect a lot of people dependent on organisations for help. 

“We are staying within the communities. We know exactly the needs of the communities and if there is no budget, it means we can’t do anything as an organisation for thousands of people,” he said.

Prudence Maluka, from the Ekurhuleni Aftercare Centre, said the funding cuts would harm service workers as well as those who benefited from the care the centre provided. “This means that there’ll be a loss of jobs for us and our staff members, there’ll be a loss of services for my beneficiaries.”

Vusi Ndabula, a social worker at the Khanya Family Centre, said while he supported a focus on fighting substance abuse, it should not happen at the expense of after-school, child welfare and elder care programmes. Ndabula said cutting funding for these services would be counterintuitive in the fight against substance abuse.“The same people [whose services are being cut], they’ll be the same people now who are going to be involved in substance abuse,” he said. “Because now there’s nothing that they’re doing; they’re left at home, they’re not working.”

In addition, cutting funding to these organisations went against the Gauteng and national government’s supposed commitment to fighting unemployment and creating jobs – since the funding cuts would force many organisations to reduce staff.

Mackerdhuj said that there had been a lack of foresight from the department. “If you work with some kind of foresight or proactively you would work on a three-year plan and look to reduce services offered by an NPO, and then work on a plan to gradually take away services and budget. You can’t tell people all of a sudden that you don’t have a job,” she said.

Care workers’ voices not included

A group of care workers expressed their concerns to Maverick Citizen about not being included in the memorandum that was handed over to the MEC. 

“Our grievances weren’t included in the memorandum. They only say that they want things to go back as they were pre-budget cut, which we also want. However, if things return to normal, it means we will simply stay where we were, earning as little as we are earning and it’s been years and years we have been crying about this same thing,” one of the care workers said. 

Numerous managers and staff said there has been no communication from the Gauteng social development before the budget cuts. ‘If my organisation can’t provide meals to these children, where do they go?’ one manager asked. (Photo: Takudzwa Pongweni)

Another said they earned R2,300 a month. “We are earning so little and we have families to support and responsibilities, but we can’t uphold them because of how little money they give us.” While there were salary increases, they were minimal compared to what managers and social workers received. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Suffer the children: It’s contemptible that Gauteng MECs for social development are not held to account

“Every year when they allocate us money, the increments are so small – a little R50 here – it seems like they focus a lot on management as they can get up to R500,” said another care worker. 

The care workers said they had made numerous attempts to voice their concerns, to no avail. “Last year around August, we partnered with Nactu [the National Council of Trade Unions], and we had a national march. The very same managers we are here to support today, were not in support of us as workers … We feel that they are trying to use us to fight their battles and it is very unfair because we are not even included in this battle.”

 ‘Between a rock and a hard place’

Fouché, of Springs and Kwa-Thema Child Welfare, said she did not know what the next step was. “We are barely enough at the present moment to do all the work, how are we going to do all the work then? Are we going to give it back to DSD? They haven’t spoken to us about that,” she said. 

Springs and Kwa-Thema Child Welfare would have to make a difficult decision about signing its Service-Level Agreement (SLA), she said. 

“If we sign SLAs now and we accept a 50% budget cut, what is that going to mean? I can’t work for 50% of my salary. If we don’t sign, the government might just turn around and say well you didn’t want to sign; so we have our backs against the wall and we are between a rock and a hard place,” she said.

While the department said on 9 April that “residential care services to older persons, child and youth care centres, shelters for women and those with disabilities will remain funded accordingly”, managers said they were still worried about functioning with reduced budgets. 

Mackerdhuj said that while she would sign the SLA on Friday, she would dispute the budget cut. She said a 50% budget cut would make it difficult to manage the caseload and she was unsure how she would pay salaries this month. “What do we do with half our social workers, what do we do with half our load?”

 Many other NPOs are in a similar position and will also have to decide whether to sign their SLAs or not.

Picketing to continue

Employees and representatives said they planned to continue picketing, in the hope that the department would reverse its decision. 

“I hope that they could just reverse the decision or give us at least enough time to come up with an alternative that is not about shutting down,” Maluka said. DM/MC

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ann Bown says:

    This is shocking. Since when does a Premier dictate to how a department’s budget is allocated? I’m supportive of substance abuse, homelessness in receiving a larger slice but to the expense of others. Destitute women, children, disabled and elderly people – What the heck is this? Well done Takudzwa and Will on getting this story out there, stay on it!
    How long before other provinces follow?

  • GPJ GPJ says:

    It is contemptible. Even before this cut, the department paid their own social workers roughly twice as much as they subsidised (with taxpayer money of course) social workers employed by NGOs. Now they’ve actually cut subsidies by 61%, moving the money to substance abuse, recycling etc. Who will now take care of children that are abused, neglected and orphaned?

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