THERE are many narratives that have been perpetuated through society for such a long time that we just take them as being factually correct. This is a dangerous phenomenon. We need to con stantly challenge such wisdom that is taken for grant ed because, in most cases, this “wisdom” is factually incorrect. A perfect example of one of these narratives is that of the “child welfare queen” or “grant queen”. These are said to be unemployed women who have children for the express purpose of collecting the social grants that come from having these children. This narrative continues, becomes more insidious and implies that these women purposely do not work. Why would they when they can just push out babies and collect money from the state for doing nothing? When one does the research from where this narrative emerged, one can trace its roots to the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan in 1976. It was based on Linda Taylor, a woman who defrauded hundreds of thousands of dollars from various government agencies through the use of 33 alias es.
However, when one looks at the reality of the American context, fraud counts for less than two per cent of unemployment insurance payments. However the narrative continues to be spread with many being of the opinion that such grants will en courage recipients to not look for jobs. A quote which captures this perfectly is from Franklin Roosevelt, who characterised the social grant system as “a narcotic, that is a subtle destroyer of the human spirit”. Conversely, a comparative study held in Mexico, Morocco, Honduras, Nicaragua and Indonesia found that there was no systematic evidence that cash transfer programmes for those in need discourage work whatsoever.
A World Bank report from 2001 found that such monies contrary to the dominant narrative were not typically squandered on things like tobacco and alcohol. Yet another study conducted in 1995 in the U.S analysed the rate of births to unwed mothers to shed light on this issue. This study found that welfare payments didn’t increase single motherhood. Another report in the U.S. showed that cash welfare systems early in a child’s life improve the child’s long time educational attainment, nutritional status and income in their adulthood. The narrative that women have children to get the social grants for them within the South African con text is almost a carbon copy of its American counter part. There is the archetypal black woman who uses government aid and grants to support her lavish life. She is too lazy to find a job. The story is perpetuated by finding one case of such abuse and applying it to every social grant recipient in the nation.
However, in South Africa, the benefits of the welfare system have seen a shift in the number of black people living in absolute poverty since 1994. Goldman Sachs’ 20 year evaluation of South Africa, which was released in 2013, showed that the number of black people that are living below the poverty line in 1993 was 70%. This figure dropped to 61% in 2008. The study found that this was largely due to government spending on social safety nets. Let’s also add the caveat that the current money given per child for a child grant is R420. I fail to see someone deciding to not seek for work, but instead take on the massive financial responsibility that comes with child care for a measly R420 a month.
A final fact which I hope will put a nail in the coffin of this insidious social grant welfare queen narrative is a report conducted by the Centre for the Social Development in South Africa. The report noted that social grants have enhanced women’s power and control over their households and also enhances their decision making in financial matters. As such, I believe it’s high time that we throw this harmful and factually false narrative in the dust bin of history where it belongs.
Mikhail Petersen holds a Bachelors of Social Science degree in Politics and Economic History as well as an LLB from UCT. He is an intern in the Sustained Dialogue Programme at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
Published on News24