In 1998, South Africa introduced the Child Support Grant (CSG) programme, a cash transfer scheme designed to provide the care­givers of young children living in extreme poverty with access to financial assistance to supplement their household income. Studies of the programme have found that the CSG is used to pay for essentials such as food, basic services and education-related costs, and has led to increased school attendance, improved early childhood nutrition, reduced incidence of illness and reductions in risky behaviour by adolescents, including lower rates of teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol use. The majority of child grant beneficiaries (96%) are women, and a study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa concluded that the grant helps to empower women in poor communities by giving them control over household decision-making in financial matters.

Initially, the programme paid 100 South African Rand a month and was restricted to children under the age of seven. Civil society organisations (CSOs) analysed government budgets and found that sufficient public resources existed to expand the programme to include more beneficiaries and to increase the size of the grant. Using this evidence as the basis for advocacy, civil society groups targeted the Treasury Department, the Department of Social Development and Parliament, ultimately securing agreements to increase the maximum age for eligibility, first from seven to nine years (2003), then to 11 years (2004), 14 years (2005), 15 years (2009) and in 2012 to its current 18 years of age. As a result, the number of beneficiaries increased from 1.9 million in 2001 to 11.1 million in 2014.

CSOs recognised early on in the programme that the value of the grant was decreasing in real terms over time, due to inflation and other factors. Armed with research evidence, they successfully pushed the government to increase the grant amounts, which have increased from 100 South African Rand ($8) in 1998 to 330 South African Rand ($26) in 2015.

Civil society efforts have been aided by the fact that South Africa is one of the most transparent countries in the world when it comes to budgets. The country has ranked at or near the top of the Open Budget Index since the Open Budget Partnership started publishing its rankings in 2006.

Key lessons

  • Whilst seemingly not attention grabbing, the use of detailed budget analysis can be a highly persuasive advocacy tool.
  • Targeting of the budget process should begin before the government tables its budget, in order to influence budget allocations before they are shaped.