There is growing interest in the potential role of social transfers in tackling poverty and vulnerability in developing countries. Social transfers are tax-financed transfers in cash of kind paid to households in poverty. Enhancing the purchasing power of those in poverty to help them reach a basic living standard is hardly a novel approach to poverty reduction in developed countries. In Sub-Saharan Africa, some policy makers have reservations on whether this approach could work. In many countries in the region, poverty incidence is high, fiscal resources are very limited, and delivery capacity is threadbare. Several pilot social transfer programmes in Zambia, Kenya, Ghana, and Ethiopia are producing much needed knowledge on how these restrictions can be lifted, and on the effectiveness of social transfers.
Francie Lund has written a book on the policy debates and processes leading to the introduction of the Child Support Grant in 1998 (Changing Social Policy. The Child Support Grant in South Africa, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, 2008, http://www.hsrcpress.za). The Grant now reaches 8 million children in poor households in South Africa. As Chair of the group tasked with producing a review and report for the Government of South Africa which led to the Grant (the 1995 Lund Committee for Child and Family Support), a leading social policy academic, and a ‘welfare activist’ (her words), no one could claim to be better placed to write this book. The book is written with the immediacy of a main protagonist, but with the critical detachment of a researcher, a rare feat. For anyone interested in how we are to address child poverty, in South Africa and elsewhere, this is a ‘must read’. The book will also be of interest and benefit to those concerned with policy processes in developing countries.
South Africa has relied on social transfers as the main response to poverty since the 1920’s when an old age grant was introduced for poor whites. Over time, grants reached other groups, and the end of apartheid in 1994 led to the elimination in racial discrimination in access to the grants. The Lund Committee was set up to consider what support the new administration should give children in poverty. Its conclusion was that a social transfer paid to the caregiver, but which ‘followed the child’ was the most effective strategy. The extension of the rights of children which the transfer represents will, in the years to come, be acknowledged as a milestone.