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Lone Mothers Working Paper 3: Social security and the dignity of lone mothers in South Africa

by Gemma Wright, Michael Noble, Phakama Ntshongwana, David Neves, Helen Barnes in 2014
Lone Mothers Working Paper 3

The purpose of this themed working paper is to explore social security for lone mothers in South Africa in a number of different ways. The paper draws from material emerging from 30 focus groups which were undertaken in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape provinces in South Africa.1 Section 1 contains a review of current social security provision in South Africa in terms of how it provides for the needs of lone mothers. Section 2 contains material from the focus groups on lone mothers’ accounts of applying for, receiving, and having the Child Support Grant – a form of social assistance intended for the needs of the children for whom they care rather than their own needs. Section 3 presents results from the focus groups in relation to women’s views about how a grant for their own needs would help to protect and respect their dignity. The main picture to emerge was that the Child Support Grant (CSG) does little to enhance lone mothers’ sense of autonomy as the grant is not intended for their own material needs and is so small as to have only a small impact on their poverty status; for some women the CSG is emblematic of their lack of autonomy as it signifies their lack of income and lack of paid work. There was no evidence that the CSG enhanced lone mothers’ self‐esteem, but rather the grant causes them to be the object of competing views of how the grant should be spent, both within their families and the community. Powerful accounts were given of how they are not treated with respect, particularly during the CSG application process, but also in the context of their status as a CSG beneficiary within the community. Furthermore, the burdensome application process involving unclear eligibility criteria and lengthy queuing is experienced as detrimental to dignity and conveys the message to the applicants that they are not regarded by government as being worthy of better treatment.