The government’s Social Assistance Programme now reaches almost 17 million South Africans — out of a total population of about 53 million — says Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini.

Delivering her department’s Budget vote in Parliament here Wednesday, she said more than two thirds of all social grant recipients are children who receive the Child Support Grant (CSG).

“Over three million older persons receive the Old Age Grant while a million people receive the disability grant,” the Minister said.

She said the investment which the government was making in the lives of the poor and vulnerable students was showing positive results and the children covered by the department’s Isibindi Programme and the CSG were performing well in schools.

Last year, out of 455,922 students who passed their high school matriculation examinations, 304,913 received a social grant, she said, adding that the social assistance had proven to be an important tool for human capital investment and the biggest contributor to reducing poverty and inequality.

In order to ensure that the education of these children continued without interruption, the department was negotiating with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to ensure that students who qualified for grants were not subjected to a means test to qualify for financial support to further their studies, the Minister said.

The Minister also disclosed that department faced huge challenges arising from illegal deductions on social grants as these deductions were eroding the value and impact of social grants in addressing the deep levels of poverty and inequality in the society.

“We have witnessed high levels of unacceptable practice of illegal, immoral and unauthorised deductions of money from all grant types for services ranging from (telephone) airtime, water, loans and funeral policies,” she said.

“We published revised Regulations to the Social Assistance Act for public comment in February this year, which will deal with this practice. The department has considered all the comments and made some revisions to the Regulations.”

The revisions to the Act would be published this week and the Ministerial Task Team on Deductions would continue to monitor these practices and ensure that deductions were ultimately brought to an end.

The department also planned to introduce legislation in Parliament during this current fiscal year for the establishment of a funeral benefits fund, she said.