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The Medium Term Budget Policy Statement: UNICEF South Africa highlights its implications for children

UNICEF South Africa believes that the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS 2017) affirms the commitment of the Government of South Africa to protect poor and vulnerable households. The MTBPS also lays out the persistent challenges for sustaining social services amidst difficult economic conditions which in turn affect budget revenues.  

UNICEF is encouraged that proposed spending on basic education, health and social protection is projected to grow by 2 percent in real terms on average over the new 2018 MTEF. UNICEF welcomes this continued commitment to children which must be seen against the background of consolidated national and provincial expenditure, which is predicted to grow by 1.7 per cent in real terms on average over the 2018 MTEF.   UNICEF welcomes these efforts and urges government to preserve the existing baseline spending on children’s services. In terms of direct gains for children’s services, UNICEF is pleased to notice that:

  • A further R1.2 billion is set aside to boost provincial allocations.
  • Additional spending will continue to finance programmes that address violence against women and children, thereby providing greater certainty for financing non-profit organisations (NPOs) that deliver critical social welfare services.
  • Education, skills development and comprehensive social security programmes are part of the 2018 MTEF priorities;
  • The 2018 MTEF will focus strongly on the expansion of Early Childhood Development programmes, including increasing the number of qualified Grade R educators.

UNICEF also notes with satisfaction that consolidated non-interest expenditure (exclusive of debt service costs), is projected to grow by 1.5 per cent in real terms on average over the 2018 MTEF, and encourages the Government to ensure that that children’s services will absorb some of these funding benefits.

The MTBPS 2017 also highlights a number of issues that may negatively impact children’s budget programmes, and consequently, the realisation of children’s social and economic rights. Some of the areas of concern include, but are not limited to:

  • Given that provincial departments are key to the implementation of children’s services, UNICEF notes with concern the MTPB’s assertion that some of these departments may experience financial strain.
  • Interventions that are less amenable to quantification such as the “quality of education”, or a “social protection floor” may not be sufficiently prioritised.
  • Debt servicing costs, which are projected to consume 15 per cent of budgeted resources in 2020/21, can put a strain on budgets for programmes that benefit children.

Where possible UNICEF encourages the 2018 MTEF to expand service provision by:

  • Preserving and expanding rights-based and equity-focused service delivery for children;
  • Protecting spending on priority programmes such as early childhood education, the national school nutrition programme, the no-fee primary school allocation, support for public-run special school education, and infrastructure spending in the most disadvantaged areas;
  • Reforming the provincial allocation formula so that it explicitly considers the poverty of individuals (including children), given the high opportunity costs associated with poverty;
  • Protecting investments in expanding quality primary health care and accelerating infrastructure spending to tackle equitable access issues to health facilities and services in the provinces;
  • Implementing the Government-backed ‘Social Protection Floor’;
  • Working with provincial treasuries to prevent expenditure reductions for services and programmes that benefit children over the new 2018 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework.

Recognising that investment in children’s services takes time to produce tangible results, UNICEF calls on the government to continue its long-standing commitment to serve all children in general and the most marginalised and poorest in particular. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of UN Information Centre in Pretoria (UNIC).

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