No evidence of a dependency culture in South Africa

TITLE AUTHOR(S): M.Noble, P.Ntshongwana
DEPARTMENT: Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD)
Intranet: HSRC Library: shelf number 6567

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The roots of this debate go back many centuries to notions of the 'undeserving poor' entrenched in pre-welfare state Britain. However, the more recent roots are to be found in neo-liberal thought which emerged in the 1980s, particularly in the US, spreading to any state which offers cash transfers as part of its anti-poverty armoury and which has concerns that expenditure on state transfers is becoming a strain on the national fiscus. It is a disingenuous thesis. Its starting point is that the poor are responsible for their own poverty and are inherently indolent, preferring to rely on state support than entering the labour market. It ignores the role social grants can play in restoring dignity to the unemployed and in helping place the unemployed in a better position to seek employment. Worst of all it flies in the face of evidence that the unemployed, far from being feckless, have a strong attachment to the labour market, and would much prefer the opportunity to support themselves through paid work if the opportunity presents itself. Though the spectre of the `dependency culture? is most commonly raised by rightwing opponents of states espousing social democratic values in the northern hemisphere, its proponents have found sympathetic ears in South Africa. Often we hear it said that in South Africa social grants foster dependency and that people should be given a `hand-up?not a `hand-out? The view is often taken that a social safety net in the form of grants is anti-development, and is even antipathetic to home-grown anti-poverty solutions. This is far from the truth ? to be opposed to social grants for the unemployed, is to be aligned with western neo-liberals found in anglo-saxon states such as the US and to a lesser degree the UK. Research from developed countries which do provide a social security safety net has shown no evidence of a dependency culture. But what about the situation in South Africa?