Children's access to social benefits to be reviewed

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Social Development and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) have recommended a review of children's access social insurance benefits.

The recommendation was made on Thursday during the launch of a report entitled: Review of Children's Access to Employment-Based Contributory Social Insurance Benefits commissioned by the department and the UNICEF.

The aim of the review is to ensure that the welfare of children is maintained on matters of social security as well as identify the leakages and weaknesses in the social security system so that remedial measures can be introduced.

UNICEF Researcher, Inja Giese, said most social insurance funds, except for the Unemployment Insurance Fund, required a guardian over the age of 18 for minor dependents, which lead to complications if a child was not in the care of a biological parent.

"Twenty-three percent of children in South Africa are not residing with either biological parent," she said, adding that it was not uncommon for children to move between caregivers particularly in the context of HIV and AIDS.

"As part of the decision-making process, the administrator has to identify the most appropriate caregiver for minor beneficiaries, making it difficult to trace dependants in the first place, and to identify the caregiver to whom pensions should be paid. 

"In such cases, funds may place onus on caregiver to prove his or her status, obtain multiple affidavits from different sources, some funds report conducting spot checks through telephone calls or home visits," Ms Giese said.

The report recommended that procedures to claim benefits should be standardised and simplified.

The process should ensure payments for children in a manner which promotes the best interests of the child and protects assets in the long term.

According to the report, many children and families struggle to access pension benefits to which they are legally entitled resulting in many continuing to live in poverty.

Communication between the funds and beneficiaries, mostly women and children, is generally poor and there is a tendency by the funds to shift the duty to obtain and verify required information onto an employer, thus, the funds become passive recipients of information.

Social Development Minister Edna Molewa said government supported the proposal. "I will submit this report to the Ministers of Finance and Labour within the next few days so that we can work together to prioritise the matters raised in the report.

The minister said the report also provided insights into a critical aspect that should be addressed in the reform of pension provisions.