Sowetan Reporters and Sapa
Finance Minister Trevor Manuel yesterday announced in parliament a budget aimed at bringing further relief to the poor and increasing spending on the fight against crime.
He said that social grant increases this year would match or exceed inflation, with old-age pensions rising by R70 a month to R940 in April.
Manuel also announced that the pension qualification for males would be reduced from 65 to 63 this year, to 61 in 2009 and to 60 by 2010.
He also extended the child-support grant to include children up to their 15th birthday, effective from January next year.
The grant will also increase by R10 in April and again in October for a total of R220.
Last week Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya said that it would eventually be extended to the age of 18.
This would be phased in over the next two to three years, Skweyiya said.
Yesterday Manuel said that Skweyiya had also indicated the need to review eligibility criteria for the grant, in line with practice in many countries, aimed at reinforcing the responsibilities of caregivers.
"These might include regular school attendance, for example, or immunisation of children in keeping with health requirements."
Manuel said all these adjustments and the additional social assistance cost amounted to R12billion over the next three years.
"The total number of grant beneficiaries is 12,4million, and expenditure on social assistance will be R75,3billion next year."
In a step aimed at strengthening crime fighting, Manuel announced an additional allocation of R10billion over three years to the police services.
The allocation include increasing the number of police officers to 200000 in 2010/11.
Also on the cards are more prosecutors, judges and magistrates, further investment in forensic science laboratories, 40 new police stations and accommodation for 18000 prisoners.
The safety and security department's budget will increase to R49,3billion by 2010/11, from R40billion in 2008/09 and R36billion in 2007/08.
The Correctional Services Department would build six new-generation prisons by 2010/11, five of them through public-private partnerships. They will accommodate 3000 prisoners each.
The department is also making efforts to improve its rehabilitation of prisoners, to reduce the numbers of repeat offenders.
R15billion will be allocated to correctional services in 2010/11, from R10,7billion in 2007/08.
Focusing on housing, Manuel said about R2,2billion would be spent on upgrading informal settlements.
The Housing Department will receive a total of R10,5billion in the coming 2008/09 financial year, increasing to R15,3billion in 2010/11.
Alternative and cheaper building technologies will be used to complement the bricks and mortar used in low-income housing.
The housing subsidy programme will now allow households earning between R3501 and R7000 a month to qualify for subsidies on mortgages from private-sector banks.
It is also expected that spending on dedicated HIV-Aids programmes by health, education and social development departments will top R6,5billion a year by 2010/11.
An extra R2,1billion was committed over the next three years to the provincial conditional grant for fighting Aids.
This will be used to expand the comprehensive treatment programme already being offered at 316 sites.
Manuel said provinces were to spend more than R18billion on school infrastructure and equipment over the next three years .
He also announced the expansion of early childhood education and the school nutrition programme. Education in the coming year will account for R121,1billion, making it yet again the largest single category of spending in the budget.
The school nutrition programme will grow by more than 30percent next year.
He told parliament that this was "so that we can feed more children, in more schools, more days of the year".
According to the budget review, tabled along with his speech, the nutrition programme is to get an extra R1,8billion.
Currently the programme provides meals to six million pupils in 18 000 schools.
Manuel said there would be additional allocations this year for higher education and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, and further education and training (FET) colleges are being recapitalised.
Revenue from the skills development levy is projected to rise to more than R9billion by 2010/11.
The government is exploring ways in which these funds can be used to support FET colleges.
Allocations to provinces will total R238billion in 2008/09, increasing by R46billion over the next three years.
Most of this will go to improvements in education, health, welfare and housing.
The 2008/09 allocation represents a R32billion increase over the current financial year's allocation of R205billion.
According to budget documents tabled yesterday, KwaZulu-Natal will receive the lion's share of the R238billion budget - an amount of R49billion.
A total of R17billion was added to the budgets of the departments of housing, provincial and local government, water affairs, sport and recreation, and transport over the next three years. The extra would be mainly for infrastructure, the documents said.