Older Person’s Grant not ‘nearly enough’ to support SA’s elderly

22 February 2024 | Story Niémah Davids. Photo Pexels. Voice Cwenga Koyana Read time 7 min.
The older persons’ care needs and social grants research study forms part of the Family Caregiving of Older Persons in southern Africa programme.
The older persons’ care needs and social grants research study forms part of the Family Caregiving of Older Persons in southern Africa programme.

Increasingly, older people in South Africa are struggling to make ends meet, and the monthly state-funded Older Person’s Grant (OPG) is not nearly enough to get by. Their list of responsibilities is endless, and uppermost is caring for their families.

And while Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana announced during his budget speech on Wednesday, 21 February, that the country’s elderly would receive an additional R100, will it fill the hole in their pockets? With the latest increase in place, the elderly will now receive R2 180.

“Social grants alone are not supporting the care needs of older people or their households. The state must turn its attention to [introducing] community-based care services for older people,” said the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Professor Elena Moore.

Moore is a professor in sociology at UCT and leads the Family Caregiving of Older Persons in southern Africa programme. A recent study, “Older persons’ care needs and social grants”, which forms part of the programme, sets out to establish how the OPG is transformed into care and how older folks spend their grants. To draw these conclusions, Moore and her team analysed national income and expenditure data (NIDS) that focused specifically on OPG beneficiary households, combined with a qualitative research approach, which included the experiences of 80 families in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The research

The study was motivated by an earlier research report, Funding Elder Care, which found that about 98% of South Africa’s Department of Social Development’s annual spend goes towards funding the OPG. Therefore, Moore said, it was crucial to understand whether this grant meets older folks’ overarching needs and where the gaps are.


“In 25 years’ time we will have almost twice the number of older people than we have right now.”

“In 25 years’ time we will have almost twice the number of older people than we have right now. National policy makes the assumption that because older people receive the OPG, investing more on community services is not necessary, even though everyone knows that the OPG is used on the household and not exclusively on the older person, and our research proves this,” she said.

According to Moore, the research findings indicate that almost two thirds of OPG beneficiaries live in households with five or more people, and the average monthly household income is approximately R6 850. In two thirds of these households, no income is recorded from employment. However, many also receive the Child Support Grant and the Social Relief of Distress Grant, which contribute to the total monthly household income, but still falls far short of what is needed. In homes where no additional grants are received, the OPG is forced to stretch even further. 

Underspend on food  

Worryingly, Moore said, the research revealed that homes dependent on the OPG and other grants recorded a gross underspend on food.

“The average OPG beneficiary household spends roughly R2 438 per month on necessities, including food. Yet, research conducted in July 2023, showed that a nutritious diet for a family of five costs roughly R4 459. This does not include the cost of electricity to cook the food, the cost of transport to acquire the food, or cleaning products to clean up after the meal,” she said. “The discrepancy between what households are spending and what is deemed the basic cost of a nutritious diet for a family of five per month is what is most concerning.”

Despite these concerns, the annual OPG increases fail to match the rising cost of living, which includes food prices and the mounting cost of electricity and fuel. As a result, families have no choice but to sacrifice on certain food items because the bulk of OPG funds go towards paying for electricity, as well as transport to reach local clinics or the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) office.


“This means that many older folks rely on community-based, non-profit-organisation-funded food programmes.”

“This means that many older folks rely on community-based, non-profit-organisation-funded food programmes to ensure that they receive at least two or three nutritious meals per week. This was evident in our research,” Moore said. “Yes, community-based support goes a long way, but it remains uneven across communities and provinces and fails to serve the majority of older people.”

Niche research area

In recent years, Moore said, much research emphasis has been placed on the OPG, with the aim of using it as a tool to alleviate poverty, especially at household level. However, she added, very little attention is placed on what the OPG means to older folk on an individual level, specifically regarding their care needs, and whether they can use it to access healthcare and nutritious food.

Subsequently, the research showed that elderly family members who care for relatives using their OPG receive very little additional support. While the OPG fills gaping holes around the home, helps to put food on the table and covers other basic needs, additional funds are needed to improve the elderly’s functional ability and ensure their right to dignity.

“We will work with the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health and other key stakeholders to advocate for change and to re-structure elder person care. As the older person grant beneficiary population grows, and more people rely on the OPG, a comprehensive set of policies need to be developed to support the OPG as the main form of state support for older persons and their households,” Moore said.

Bringing change

It’s possible to change the lives of thousands of OPG recipients living on the margins in South Africa.

Moore said a fundamental step in the process is introducing sustainable community care packages and opportunities that will help older people manage their day-to-day costs. This could include free transport to clinics, and potentially creating more mobile clinics in under-resourced communities to minimise travel costs.

“A few communities are already leading the way in this regard. One example of this is the regular and reliable supply [of] incontinence products, which prevent OPG households from purchasing such expensive, but necessary products,” she said.

“Through more campaigns and advocacy work, we can also make sure that older persons who have full-time needs apply for the Grant in Aid and we are hoping for a much better uptake of this grant as well. With these measures in place, we are on our way to placing the needs of this marginalised sector of society first.”

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