Funding for socio-economic rights slashed in the 2020 Budget

SECTION27 is concerned that the Minister of Finance has cut spending in the crucial areas of education and health in order to bail out state-owned enterprises and reduce public borrowing. He announced that “education infrastructure allocations are adjusted by R5.2 billion over the medium term, while health is adjusted by R3.9 billion over the same period.” This amounts to a reduction in real terms in areas when greater urgency is needed to make sure that government is able to eradicate pit toilets and meet the healthcare needs of the population.

Basic education continues to receive the largest share of state expenditure. The budget allocates R265.9billion to basic education for the 2020/21 financial year. This figure, however, represents a decrease in real terms of -2.8 percent from last year’s budget. This cut, amounting to R810 for every learner in real terms, will affect poor schools hardest, and is not limited to the wage bill.  In five provinces, provincial departments of education are already spending less per learner than what is mandated by the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Funding regulations.

Significant cuts have been applied to the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) and the Schools Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG), aimed at delivering much needed sanitation, electricity and other essential infrastructure to schools. In terms of overall baseline reductions in the budget over the medium term, the EIG is one of the hardest hit. The EIG has been cut by R459million this year, and over the medium term, the SIGB will be cut by R122.8million. The Estimates of National Expenditures on Basic Education states, “these reductions could result in delays in the completion of projects” which pertain to sanitation. This seriously jeopardises the ability of provincial governments to eradicate pit toilets and deliver other essential infrastructure. Such delays violate learners’ constitutional rights affirmed in court orders that government is already behind in implementing.

With respect to school sanitation, this budget gives little clarity on the way forward to eradicate unsafe and unlawful pit toilets in schools, as required by law. Pit toilets have been responsible for the deaths of learners including Michael Komape and Lumka Mkhethwa. Over the next three years, R2.8billion has been allocated to provide appropriate sanitation for schools. However, it is unclear whether this amount is sufficient to eradicate pit toilets entirely, or what the implementation plan for delivery of adequate sanitation is. Multiple concurrent processes for school sanitation seem to be at play – the EIG, SIBG, and the Sanitation Appropriate For Education (SAFE) programme launched by the Presidency in 2018. In this budget, no mention is made of the SAFE initiative. For these reasons, SECTION27 is troubled about the budget’s commitments to eradicating unsafe sanitation in schools and urges the government to provide clarity on the matter.

Minister Mboweni mentioned that grants towards maths, science and technology will introduce coding and robotics to learners in foundation phase. SECTION27 questions this prioritisation and argues instead for increased commitments to eradicating unsafe sanitation.

We welcome the increase of the subsidy for early childhood development services from R15 to R17 per child per day, but note that this remains insufficient to ensure quality ECD services for children. . The budget does not provide for the migration of ECD services from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education. Costing of this migration is essential to ensure there is quality early childhood development service provision, in terms of teaching and infrastructure. It is also essential to ensure that young learners receiving ECD services are safe from the many evils that can occur in the schooling context, for example inter-learner violence, bullying and poor infrastructure.

We also note the lack of a conditional grant for scholar transport. Transport to school remains, in our view, an important issue that requires specific and adequate funding. We hope that specific attention will be paid in future to the transport of learners with disabilities.

Slower timeframe for NHI

A similarly worrying picture emerges in respect of allocations for healthcare funding, which amount to R229.7billion in 2020/21. The proposed 5.1 percent average annual increase in nominal terms over the medium term is not linked to the rising cost of health care, and will therefore put access to quality public healthcare at risk.

While we have heard much about the implementation of NHI in the medium term, Minister Mboweni stated that the decrease in funding for the National Department of Health means, “That some activities related to NHI will be phased in over a longer timeframe”. If this results in a more careful consideration of how to effectively implement health systems change, it is to be welcomed.

The budget prioritises the establishment of the NHI Fund office. This prioritisation obliges a response to the concerns about the NHI Fund and its governance structures. It is fundamentally important that the Fund is impervious to political interference and that there are sufficient mechanisms to prevent corruption.

The commitment to finally ensure that all community health workers are receiving a minimum stipend of R3 500 per month during the 2020/21 financial year is welcome since these workers are such an integral part of the primary health care system.

Of concern, however, is the decrease in conditional grants in the health sector, which are proposed to be cut by a combined R1.9 billion in the medium term, and R446 million in the coming year alone. The services that will be most affected by budget cuts are central hospital services, provincial hospital services and emergency medical services. This will negatively affect services particularly in rural areas where patients are already being denied health care because of a lack of reliable ambulance services.

In addition, we note with concern the persistent increase in medico-legal claims. Proposed interventions include the allocation of R25 million to the National Quality Improvement Plan (NQIP) and the introduction of the State Liability Amendment Bill. The final NQIP has yet to be made public however and the draft plan’s capability of implementation is questionable.

Overall, SECTION27 is very concerned about the cuts to essential education and health care spending. The realisation of the rights to education and health must be at the centre of socio-economic transformation in South Africa This should be our priority. Undermining these rights threatens our developmental goals and constitutes a violation of fundamental constitutional rights.

SECTION27 questions whether these cuts are consistent with court orders and the constitutional requirement to provide quality basic education and progressively realise the right of access to health care services.

We urge Parliament and the public to interrogate these budget proposals very closely and for the Treasury to consider more sustainable and equitable ways to achieve a balanced budget in the coming financial year.

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