How Supporting Families Supports the Economy

Life right now is hard. The petrol price keeps increasing. The cost of cooking oil is increasing. Interest rates keep going up, not to mention the electricity crisis that we too pay exorbitant fees for in this country. 

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed or anxious about the state of our country and our economy. For the average working person, life is getting more challenging. And those  who are able, and have the opportunity, are leaving for better prospects and living conditions where they can find them, hoping for an improvement in their quality of life. 

But what about those who are not working? What about those who don’t have the opportunity to leave? We are hearing more and more stories of those who are leaving their jobs because the cost of travelling to their workplace is greater than their current salary. 

This deepening economic crisis is profoundly impacting children, youth and families. Its effects are rippling through the multiple contexts in which children and youth find themselves. We see how stressors such as job loss, loss of homes, or loss in family savings place strain on parental relationships and on the family as a whole.

For families living in resource-poor communities, this crisis is more severe, with basic needs such as food security, healthcare and shelter going unmet. We saw this clearly during the first year of the pandemic. Research has shown that higher poverty rates are correlated witho increased rates of family conflict, child neglect and abuse, and intimate partner violence. Recently in South Africa, we have seen a reported   rise in  murder rates, gender-based violence and senseless tavern shootings. 

On a broader level, the worsening economy can impact funds for schools, civil society organisations and health care community services, which are seeing their budgets tighten when their services are needed the most by our nation’s children, youth and families.

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable as they undergo critical developmental transitions. For example, graduating from high school, adolescents at this stage may be forced to postpone their plans for higher education and instead seek increasingly scarce jobs in order to contribute to the household economy. All of these changes can have profound and lasting effects on the mental health of our country’s children and youth, often causing problems in terms of anxiety, lowered self-esteem and other emotional or behavioural difficulties.

I am sure reading this, you might be asking yourself, “okay, but how am I part of the solution? Surely it is government and corporations who are most responsible for making the change needed, not me.” Yes, we need to hold the government and the private sector to account, but there are also impactful things that we can do,as individuals, to support families, to uplift children and to make a difference in the day-to-day lives of others. 

Think about your sphere of influence, where can you assist the most? Is it helping cover the costs of transport for your domestic worker, knowing that most South Africans spend more than 25% of their salary on transport especially those living on the outskirts of the city. Do you have time to volunteer? Civil society organisations, need donations,yes, but also have other needs, should that be light admin, or assisting with making food or sandwiches. Perhaps you have specific skills like graphic design or marketing that could make a difference in that organisation’s impact. Do you work for a corporation that has a CSI committee? Are they focused on deep impact and building of society? Get involved in understanding who and why you support those organisations. Can you or your workplace offer internships or apprenticeship programmes to help youth gain work experience?

As South Africans we have seen our country come together in times of need, organizing soup kitchens in our communities, cleaning up, and helping rebuild businesses in Kwazulu-Natal. The very foundation of our country is cemented in unity, community and the spirit of Ubuntu. And now we need this more than ever.

Research has shown that when given the appropriate tools for positive parenting, prevention of child abuse,neglect, and the fostering of resilience- children, youth and families can more effectively cope with the stress that this economic downturn has produced. But families need more. As an organization whose sole purpose is to see families thrive, we strongly advocate for the universal income grant. We advocate for it because we know that families that receive the grant are better able to access food,regular health care, and to send their children to school. They’re also less likely to suffer from debilitating stress, which can lead to violence and poor mental health.

The universal income grant also helps to protect the  dignity of all families, particularly, those that need it the most. Families get to decide for themselves how they will use the money, and what is important for them in order to survive. It allows families and children to break-free from the poverty trap as they can take more strategic risks, knowing that their basic needs are met. We have seen the scientific data reflected in the work that we do with families who are in need of support, not only psychologically but also financially. When we strengthen and support families with both financial aid and parental tools we help foster resilience amongst families as well as support the economy. It helps to fill jobs today and it helps to prepare children and youth for their future. 

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Written by Danielle Moosajie