For people who didn't join the struggle to be stupid
25 September 2017 01:00 (South Africa)
Opinionista Lisa Vetten

The Budget 2016 and South Africa’s care economy

  • Lisa Vetten
    lisa-vetten.jpg
    Lisa Vetten

    Lisa Vetten has worked in the field of violence against women for over two decades as a counsellor, para-legal, trainer and researcher. She is currently an honorary research associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

In his Budget Speech Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan acknowledged that “the real champions of our development are the activists and entrepreneurs, officials and facilitators, who get on with the job day by day of managing programmes and running businesses, serving communities and meeting needs.” But how is all the meeting of needs going to be paid for?

While admiring how “faith communities, non-governmental organisations and community volunteers demonstrate daily that basic needs can be met with dignity”, the Gordhan’s speech ultimately paid little attention to how all this serving of communities and meeting of needs is to be paid for. In a Budget seeking to address South Africa’s high unemployment and extreme inequality this is a significant oversight.

Rectifying it means challenging the inequitable two-tier care economy that has developed in South Africa and in particular its reliance on self-exploitation and low-wage, high-turnover labour strategies. Care work, or activities performed in service of others, starts from a low value base. It is overwhelmingly feminised and would also appear to be paid less than work typically treated as men’s work (such as engineering). This disadvantage is further compounded by the pay gap between the public sector and the private sector. According to the University of Cape Town’s Development Policy Research Unit the public sector now constitutes the new wage elite, with the average monthly wage of a public sector employee calculated as R11,668 and that for a private sector employee R7,822.

How this two-tier economy operates is well-illustrated by a comparison between the funding of emotional support services to rape survivors presenting at government’s Thuthuzela Care Centres, and the department of social development’s (DSD) Gender-based Violence Command Centre. At some 45 of the 55 Thuthuzela Care Centres in existence, emotional support services are provided by the non-profit sector, while the Command Centre is a government and for-profit private sector partnership.

Counsellors who work at the Thuthuzela Care Centres are responsible for explaining the processes followed at the Centre, accompanying the survivor through the forensic examination and other post-rape procedures, providing psychological first aid and ensuring the survivor gets follow-up counselling. It is work that makes high emotional demands and is usually undertaken in 12-hour shifts.

Research undertaken with all 27 of the organisations providing these services found that 14 organisations received no funding from DSD to do so. When the Department did provide funding for these counsellors’ salaries it was low, ranging from R500 per month, to R2,500 per month. Only one of the 13 organisations awarded DSD funds received more than R3,000 per month. If organisations did not secure additional top-up funds, this meant that their counsellors earned less than the R2,606.68 minimum wage prescribed for farm workers by law (as at 1 March 2015) – and sometimes even less than those employed on the Expanded Public Works Programme, where minimum wages were set at R71 per day in 2013.

Such low payments were justified by some provincial offices of the DSD on the grounds that the counsellors were ‘volunteers’ who only required stipends. However, all these volunteers either worked the traditional eight-hour working week, or a series of 12-hour shifts frequently amounting to more than 40 hours per week. A number of DSD offices also paid organisations their funding tranches late. Typically delayed by three months, this could extend to nine months, not only stressing already fragile organisations, but forcing a vulnerable category of worker into even more precarious living circumstances.

This approach is in marked contrast to how DSD deals with the private, for-profit sector.

In 2013/14 the DSD entered into a partnership with the private sector to establish the Gender-based Violence Command Centre. The Command Centre was allocated a budget of R13 million in its first year of operation, much of which was to go towards its running by Advance Call – a private sector ‘boutique call centre.’ This budget allocation represented a 1,140% increase in the use of consultants over the previous year, with expenditure jumping from R1.1 million, to R13.9 million between 2013/14 and 2014/15.

Both the national and Gauteng offices of DSD were also funding the national ‘Stop Gender Violence Helpline’ established in 1999 and managed by the non-profit organisation Lifeline. In contrast to the Command Centre the Lifeline helpline cost R1.2 million per year and was run by a staff of 23 (versus the 65 employed by the Command Centre). Where the Helpline was assisting about 18,000 callers annually, the Command Centre claimed to help 10,000 callers annually.

It is not necessary to wait for next year’s Budget to address these inequities.

An immediate improvement to the entire non-profit care work sector could be accomplished with the implementation of national Treasury’s Financing Framework and Policy for Social Welfare Services in South Africa - Proposed Framework for Managing Transfers to NPOs. Amongst other things, this remarkable document would allow organisations to appeal DSD’s decisions to an independent panel, and claim interest on late payments from the Department at official SARS interest rates.

Another immediate action would be to include the non-profit care work sector within the debates around a national minimum wage. Once this is set it would not only prevent DSD from treating care workers as ‘volunteers’ but also ensure that subsidies are standardised across provinces and organisations.

Over the medium-term it is also necessary to cost the provision of comprehensive services to rape survivors, as well as to children and other categories of people in need of care. Failing to fairly remunerate care work not only ensures that inequality continues but also denies quality services to those who need care. As a society we are all the poorer for this. DM

  • Lisa Vetten
    lisa-vetten.jpg
    Lisa Vetten

    Lisa Vetten has worked in the field of violence against women for over two decades as a counsellor, para-legal, trainer and researcher. She is currently an honorary research associate at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WiSER).

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