NGOs battle inflation in shrinking economy

TASNEEM HASSAN

While Social Development MEC Albert Fritz revealed in his budget speech late last month that there’s not enough money to help NGOs beat inflation, charities in the northern suburbs say the need for social assistance in the community is growing and will be harder to meet with less money from the state.

Clive Fox, president of Merriman Lions in Goodwood, said food and shelter were in short supply for many, and Lions had noticed a disturbing new trend: a growing need among middle-income families, especially single-parent ones.

Often, divorced parents did not get maintenance and landed in a spiralling debt trap, said Mr Fox.

The organisation itself is also being hurt by rising fuel costs and is having a hard time keeping pace with expenses.

Merriman Lions is a humanitarian community service club, which has to raise its own income through fund-raising – a tough job in a shrinking economy.

The club used to receive a subsidy for a community feeding project from government but that dried up about two years ago when the project stopped, so while Mr Fritz’s announcement won’t have a direct impact, the club may find fundraising increasingly competitive as NGOs trying to make do with more meagre state grants increasingly turn to the public to close the gap.

Merriman Lions runs a food project across four suburbs, at least four days a week. But donated goods are often in short supply.

Mr Fox said the club was seeing cases where people had little or no money to spend on groceries and were either behind with their rent of bond payments to the point where some faced losing their homes. In many cases, he said, single parents could not afford to pay for school books and uniforms for their children.

“Yet, despite years of contentious debate, many schools still insist on even the poorest having to buy expensive school uniforms.

“The cost of living, coupled with fuel increases, drought and corruption etc, makes it impossible for the elderly to have a decent living standard,” said Mr Fox.

Some parents, he said, had taken their children out of school because they could not pay the fees. However, casual work for teenagers was hard to find.

“In a country with such an amazing constitution, the plight of the poor of all cultures is worsening by the day, and, apart from benevolent individuals or service clubs, there are few others willing to share with those who have so little,” said Mr Fox.

In his budget speech on Tuesday March 29, Mr Fritz said a “sluggish economy and a growing pool of unemployed South Africans” had placed more pressure on social services than at any other time in South Africa’s history.

A rising need for services and the impact of above-inflation wage agreements for civil servants were among the reasons for the department making some hard budget decisions, and it regretted being unable find an inflation-linked increase for NGOs in the R1.9 billion budget.

“However, we believe our budget is still a tool for maintaining and expanding quality services,” said Mr Fritz.

Linda Louw, from the Tygerberg Service Centre in Parow, said she had also seen a rising call for aid from the community.

Many of those needing help were homeless or elderly, but in recent months middle-income families had also approached the centre for food, she said, echoing Mr Fox’s observations.

“It is very difficult for people to make ends meet these days. The struggle has a ripple effect on families,” said Ms Louw.

Most of the people they helped were looking for food, not money.

“All they want is to fill their stomachs. The foundering economy, coupled with shrinking donations and growing need, was creating a desperate situation, Ms Louw said.

“We are sitting with our hands in our hair. The high food prices has us all suffering because even our donations become less.”

The centre runs eight feeding projects, apart from their daily feeding scheme at the centre for elderly people. The impact of the economic downturn on South Africa’s most vulnerable was most evident in the plight of the elderly, said Ms Louw.

“They can’t even live on their pension as it is so little. After they pay their rent they have no more money to live on.”

Ms Louw said that the centre receives a subsidy from the department every three months, but was reluctant to share the amount.

Neville Hitchcock, from the Salvation Army in Goodwood, said the country’s economic woes were also making it very difficult for the organisation to meet the growing demands placed on it for social aid.

He said they had had appeals for help from the elderly and the homeless. However, the organisation’s community centre, where they once ran food projects, closed about a year ago due to lack of community support, and the monthly subsidy from the Department of Social Development had stopped along with it.