South Africa

Old age grant not enough for older people’s needs – survey

older people needs

A new survey shows that the old age grant of R2 080 is not enough for the needs of older people in South Africa, such as their care needs, access to health, nutrition and assistive devices. About 3.9 million people receive the old age grant.

Prof. Elena Moore led a team of researchers from the Family Caregiving programme in the sociology department at the University of Cape Town that interviewed 30 families in rural KwaZulu-Natal and 50 families in the Western Cape to determine how families headed by pensioners make ends meet and if older people receive the care they need.

According to the report on the research, Older Persons Care needs & Social Grants 2024, most conventional assessments of care needs consider activities of daily living such as whether someone can eat, bath, walk, get dressed and use a toilet.

However, many of these assessments assume that there is food to eat, water available for a bath or washing, or that there is electricity available to heat the water for the bath or cook the food. In addition, a lot of the research on the grants focuses on its poverty alleviating aspects, especially at a household level.

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Little attention to individual older people

Little attention is paid to the outcomes for older people at an individual level, particularly regarding their needs. In addition, policy makes the assumptions that older people get the grant and therefore they do not invest more on funding services, although it is widely known that the grant is used for households and not for older people alone.

Therefore, this report examines how the older people’s needs are met, especially regarding the actual possible outcomes given the amount of money available.

Measuring care needs is also not straight forward. According to the report, you can only consider whether someone’s care needs are met if you think about whether they can afford to go to the shop, buy the food and buy the electricity to cook and store the food. Therefore, the researchers emphasised household income and expenditure as it is a prerequisite for attending to the care needs of older people.

The researchers analysed data from Wave 5 of UCT’s National Income Dynamics Study that indicated that beneficiaries of the grant lived in households of three or more people in 2018, with an average household income of R6 850.

Statistics SA data from 2021 shows that most older people need chronic medication and access to healthcare facilities as 24% have diabetes, 68% have hypertension and 14% have arthritis. The researchers say they also battle with deteriorating eyesight, mobility and cognition, which means they need additional support every day.

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Older people in Cape Town

They found in urban areas in Cape Town, older people have more access to water and electricity, while they live closer to health facilities and their families are smaller, which means their grants go a bit further. However, the older people often had to fund their households instead of funding their own care.

Families in Khayelitsha and Eerste Rivier told the researchers that they could only make ends meet by spending less on food, while many are also stuck in debt spirals as they are forced to borrow from loan sharks who charge exorbitant interest.

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Older people in KwaZulu-Natal

In rural KwaZulu-Natal, the researchers found that most households consist of eight or nine people, which made it difficult to afford food, medical supplies and transport to clinics. There, a round-trip to the town costs R46 and one to the closest clinic, R82. Disabled pensioners pay from R200 tot R800 to hire a car. A pack of adult incontinence products that last a week, cost R219.

Therefore, these households have only about R1 000 left for food, while there is also limited access to water and electricity. The household basket with nutritious food for a family of seven costs R5 324 according to the household affordability index of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group. The researchers found that the households headed by older people spend less than half of this on food.

How to improve the lives of grant beneficiaries

In the absence of greater community care structures, the researchers say the grant is needed to meet the care needs of older people, but more sustainable community care packages and opportunities can indirectly help older people manage their costs, such as free transport to clinics or mobile clinics to reduce transport costs.

Some communities already have a regular and reliable supply of incontinence products that ensures that households headed by older people do not have to buy these expensive but necessary items.

The researchers also pointed out that the forthcoming phasing out of cash pay points, will have to be managed and observed, while the cost of accessing the grant or delays in accessing it, especially for beneficiaries living in rural areas must be reviewed.

More research is also needed to understand the ways the introduction of social protection systems for unemployed adults of working age, such as the SRD grant, shapes the claims made on the grants for older people and the older beneficiary.