HILD support grants will be extended to 18-year-olds, benefiting an additional two million children.

This move has been on the cards since 2002 under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki. It took seven years to incrementally increase the cut-off age.

Through the years the reason given for not making the grant available to all poor children as defined in the Constitution - that is, a person under the age of 18 - have been the costly burden it will place on the fiscus.

Government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the state had decided that now is the appropriate time to extend the policy because of deepening poverty.

The extension of the grants is long overdue because the previous versions of the cut-off age had never been justified. There was never a sound basis for them.

This new policy is to be implemented in 2010, another milestone for South Africa for that year. One asks oneself, why now? Is it because of the the violent protests by the poor?

Has the government decided to throw us a bone, seeing how we have adopted the tactics of the voiceless and powerless? Is it that the media has placed a magnifying glass on the lavish hotel accommodation and cars enjoyed by those who have access to state coffers?

We could always see that these people were spending a lot of tax rands on themselves, but we never knew exactly how much.

To carry on with this open abuse of public funds and try to defend it while at the same time failing to deliver basic services has been a slap in the face of the electorate.

Poverty would not have grown in the first place if service delivery to the people had been seen as more important than the personal luxury of leaders.

Alternatively, has the government chosen 2010 because the (some would say unnecessarily costly expenditure) on an event it is presumed will create long-term benefits for all citizens?

The World Cup has raised concerns as to whether the country can afford the event, considering the relentlessly increasing rate of poverty and inequality.

The costs of building the stadiums and roads and the (in)famous Gautrain have steadily risen since the inception of these projects.

Many of the poor have raised their eyebrows at the infrastructural development taking place within a stone's throw from them, while they do not have access to housing, water and sanitation.

Even if these are the reasons, the state has taken a step forward in progressively realising the right to social security of those unable to provide for their dependents and a step in advancing the rights of children as provided for in the Constitution.

The government is encouraged to continue reviewing and revising policy meant to relieve the effects of poverty for both the categories of people identified as vulnerable (the young, elderly and people with disabilities) and those who are not (the able-bodied citizens who are denied the opportunity to work). Growing unemployment could change fair discrimination into unfair discrimination if the situation persists.

The courts might be called on to create jurisprudence on the plight of those not theoretically considered vulnerable but who are in practical terms.

It is very unfortunate that many who are not targeted to benefit from the grants have no choice but to rely on such transfers, such as the parents of the CSG beneficiaries and the descendants of the Old Age Grant beneficiaries.

The grants are designed to benefit targeted groups, but desperate poverty requires that money to be stretched to its limits to provide for whole households.

The grants have been hailed as the best form of social assistance to relieve the effects of poverty for many households, but measures have to be put in place to offer social security to those who fall outside the categories of grant beneficiaries as defined by the current Social Assistance Act.

Such measures would give full effect to section 27 of the Constitution, which provides the right to social security, including assistance to those who are unable to provide for themselves.

lThe writer is a researcher at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute