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Income of SA?s poor on the rise

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By Thapelo Sakoana.

The number of people struggling to earn a living in South Africa has decreased, leading to a reduction of poverty especially after the year 2000.

This is according to trends published in the Development Indicators Mid-Term Review, which was unveiled by the Policy Co-ordination and Advisory Service (PCAS) unit in the Presidency on Thursday.

Since 2002, overall income growth - including the expansion of social grants - resulted in the rise of the income of the poorest 10 to 20 percent of the population.

The number of poor surviving on under R3 000 per year had also decreased from 50 percent of the population to 43 percent.

However, PCAS head Joel Netshitenzhe also noted that the rate of income improvement among the poor had not matched that of the rich, and thus while income poverty was declining, inequality has not been reduced.

"While in real and absolute terms, the income of the poor is improving, this hasn?t been at the pace of the richest of the population. Inequality worsens as a result,' he said.

Almost 12 million South Africans currently receive social grants, something that has also contributed towards the general income improvement.

In terms of employment trends, one million jobs have been created within a space of two years, particularly between September 2004 and September 2006.

Mr Netshitenzhe said South Africa was destined to meet the 2014 target of halving poverty and unemployment should this pace of job creation be sustained.

He said poverty should also be measured in terms of assets.

Since 1994, about 2,3 million housing subsidies have been completed while others are nearing completion.

At least 71 percent of households now have access to sanitation as opposed to 50 percent in 1994.

"Eighty percent of households have access to electricity, meaning 4,2 million households have received electricity connections since 1994,' said Mr Netshitenzhe.

While the completion of over 73 000 land restitution claims brought that process near completion, he highlighted that progress in land redistribution had been slow.

The levels of optimism among South Africans have also been increasing since 2004.

"The drivers of this need to be researched further but in the past we found that the performance of the economy was the reason,' explained Mr Netshitenzhe.

He explained that optimism, especially in rural areas, could be driven by the appreciation of government services.

"To the poor, a small change in their living conditions means a lot. Compared to 1994, a mere fact that they now have water and electricity means there are improvements in terms of their conditions of life,' he explained.

The economy has been growing continuously for eight years, faster than the country?s population, thus positioning the country to meet the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) targets.

AsgiSA aims to achieve 6 percent annual economic growth by 2010 and halve poverty and unemployment by 2014.

Mr Netshitenzhe said capital investment was also increasing, which created a platform for future growth.

"Our target is 25 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and we are now at 19 percent compared to 15 percent in 2000,' he said.

In terms of education, the overall balance of boys and girls amongst the 12,3 million school learners had approached parity.

The matric pass rate has also risen since 2000. However, Mr Netshitenzhe said although the number of matriculants with mathematics higher grade passes had increased since 2001, the number of passes was still low.

He added that adult literacy has increased between 1995 and 2005.

On issues of social cohesion, he said membership of voluntary civil society organisations was relatively high compared to other developing countries.

Voter participation has also been relatively high, though slightly decreasing, in the three national elections since 1994.

The percentage of women in the national and provincial legislatures increased from 25,4 percent in 1994 to 32,5 percent in 2004.

The proportion of people who think race relations are improving was around 60 percent in 2006 as compared to about 40 percent in 2000.

Crime remained at high levels despite the fact that such activities were generally decreasing, Mr Netshitenzhe observed.

"Trends in contact crime - interpersonal violence - have been slowly decreasing, in some instances marginally and others more substantially, but are still cause for concern,' he said.

Mr Netshitenzhe said the prison population was increasing again, after a reduction through the remission programme in 2005.

On health, he highlighted that the increase in HIV prevalence slowed down after rapid growth in the 1990s.

"The rate of prevalence in the past three years has been levelling off, compared to the steep rise of the 1990s,' he said.

He said the HIV infection rates of the 15 to 19 year-old age category had been fairly constant in recent years, but that there had been rapid increase in tuberculosis cases since 2001.

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