Monday Nov 28

Fall 2022

EXCERPT: We Need Cash and Care

Granting Justice: Cash, Care, and the Child Support Grant

Cash transfers can only be palliative. Universal access to good quality public services such as health and education, free at the point of delivery; availability of childcare and flexible working; equal rights in relation to property and family law; minimum wage laws and a particular focus on the informal sector are all essential components of any strategy to address women’s poverty. (Fredman 2014: 22)

The notion of transformative social protection is helpful to understand the varied outcomes of social protection strategies. The ideological underpinnings of any program to relieve poverty have major political, social, and economic consequences. Most social protection programs in the developing world have ameliorative objectives, with poverty reduction as a primary concern. This is of course positive and has made a significant impact on the lives of millions of individuals. However, providing a safety net to prevent starvation does not alter the social, political, and economic causes of starvation in the first place.

Transformative social protection, in contrast, explicitly focuses on both relieving poverty, which is a consequence of injustice, and altering some of the structural causes of the underlying injustices (Sabates-Wheeler & Devereux 2008). The differentiation between affirmation and transformation has reference here (Fraser 2003). These two forms of remedy for injustice both have positive outcomes, and both offer progress towards more just strategies, but only one can genuinely offer social justice. Affirmative strategies are ameliorative, for example, by relieving desperate poverty through grants or food aid, or by decreasing discrimination towards pregnant women in the workplace through protective employment legislation. These actions are important in cases of maldistribution, misrecognition, or misrepresentation. But affirmation will not change the cause of the injustice; it only attends to the symptoms. Transformative strategies, on the other hand, tackle the structural causes of injustice. Using the same examples, changing a pernicious capitalist economic system that has aggressively rationalized labor costs might be a transformative remedy to deal with desperate poverty; or changing childcare practices so men are equally responsible for childcare would transform discriminative tendencies towards pregnant women in the workplace. These two examples illustrate how difficult transformation can be, primarily because radically changing social, economic, and political power relations hurts those in power, making them extremely resistant to this kind of change. However, the fact that change is difficult does not mean we should merely accept the status quo (Sabates-Wheeler & Devereux 2007). Tackling these very fraught, difficult, and explosive issues is crucial: we must put pressure on governments to uphold their political commitments and on the social and political elite to enter into progressive and lasting social contracts for the public good (Hickey 2011).

In some cases, cash transfers have had transformative outcomes, but only where these outcomes were intended and factored into the design. Thus, conditional cash transfers in strongly patriarchal societies such as Latin America have had positive impacts on women’s social inequality, facilitating their increased community participation and positively influencing their social status and voice in the household (Adato et al. 2000). However, most cash transfers in Africa and other parts of the developing world are designed only to relieve the worst vagaries of poverty, which they do with greater or lesser success (Devereux & McGregor 2014). The main reason for this is the dominant assumption that the causes of vulnerability and poverty lie with the individual or household; programs are therefore designed to intervene at these levels, not at structural levels (Devereux & McGregor 2014). This methodological individualism is problematic, however, as

it does not tell us the whole story. This approach to poverty reduction does not sit consistently with more complex explanations of what poverty is and how it is produced and reproduced. In particular, it ignores, or treats too simplistically, the roles of social structures, institutions, politics and power at every level… So how does this square with notions of social justice? (Devereux & McGregor 2014: 298)

Cash transfers without a transformative agenda are therefore important affirmative responses to poverty but are not transformative. This conclusion is strongly borne out by this study. The CSG [Cash Support Grant] is an effective, important, and successful program. But the evidence from this study shows how it is a limited intervention, offering relief but no opportunities for participants to change their circumstances, economic status, and unequal position in society. The CSG on its own does not deliver social justice, although it is an important step on the path towards it.

As highlighted in this study, one of the key missing links that would lead to more transformation is welfare services. My argument is not that good welfare services would completely transform women’s lives, but that welfare services are one form of social protection that does have critical transformatory potential. Certainly, without functional, accessible welfare services, there are so many barriers to making lasting and substantive changes that it is virtually impossible to do so.

Social justice as a concept has been an enduring notion for theorists, especially in the fields of political philosophy. Many of these philosophical approaches attempt to frame a notion of ‘transcendental institutionalism’ (Sen 2009) or the production of a perfectly just world, with a focus on institutions, but largely lack nuance regarding the application of these ideas to real life. In contrast, the models of comparative or social realisation theorists are often unwieldy to use as an evaluative framework for justice in specific circumstances, though they do allow the opportunity to ask social justice questions about real circumstances and real lives. In turn, the capability approach is an excellent tool for application because it is a normative framework but is not a fully formed theory that can also explain poverty and inequality. Finally, Fraser’s trivalent theory of social justice, based on the concepts of redistribution, recognition, and representation, explains why societies are unjust and how the injustice functions, thus giving texture to how to achieve participatory parity, which is fundamental for a just society. However, it is weak in specifying the tools necessary to move from a real understanding of lives and needs to implementing remedies for injustice.

Blending the capabilities approach with Fraser’s social justice theory offers a more holistic framework to explain, evaluate, and address social injustice. Fraser’s theory provides a broad framework of analysis, while the capability approach offers the tools with which to evaluate whether circumstances are distributive, offer recognition, or are representative. By unpacking the continuum of capabilities – from those most associated with material and financial resources, at one end, to those most associated with personal abilities and internal self-esteem and efficacy, at the other – the capability approach exposes the range of social injustices that concern Fraser.

The two approaches are not perfectly aligned: there are differences and potential conflicts. Thus, Nussbaum (2011) has developed a list of the key capabilities required for a good life, despite Fraser’s insistence that such a list is far too prescriptive to apply to all societies. In Fraser's understanding, communities and individuals should themselves figure out how parity of participation should be achieved (Fraser, in Bozalek 2012: 148). However, there are fundamental correlations and alignments that make this a productive marriage of ideas. The two key bridging concepts are freedom and dignity: both are developed coherently in the capabilities approach and are also fundamental to Fraser’s work. Fraser herself recognises these connections:

I believe that my approach actually does belong to the broad family of capability theories…[In my view] social arrangements are unjust if they entrench obstacles that prevent the people from the possibility of parity of participation…[Therefore]…what we want are social arrangements that give everyone the possibility, or, if you like, the capability, to participate on a par. (Fraser, in Bozalek 2012: 147)

In this study I have thus woven the investigation of the micro-circumstances of women’s lives with Fraser’s trivalent framework into a single analytical process, both complementing each other. The importance of this is twofold: the micro-details of life feed into bigger questions of political ideology and social policy; and the theoretical approach exposes what the failures of the state mean to people who are living lives of struggle and deprivation. Both are necessary in the pursuit of social justice. This research, therefore, intertwines the conceptual notions of justice with the detail of what it really means. Based on this, I now examine the social justice successes and failures of the CSG.


Redistribution is the first strand of social justice. This is usually understood to mean financial redistribution, and it is incontrovertible that the cash of the CSG helps families materially.  While they all felt the grant was not high enough in value, their household’s daily survival depended to a large extent on the CSG money. In all cases the grant was not the only form of income; their households were a good depiction of the ‘working poor’, as there was at least one person in every household who had a job, a small business, or a sporadic means to earn money. However, to a large extent the CSG was the only reliable form of income security, received on the same day every month, which enabled these women to plan, budget, and manage, at least to some extent. The CSG is the keystone of security and dependability of income.


Recognition, the second strand of social justice, is cultural justice and parity in social status and social positioning. The very existence, functionality, and efficiency of the CSG is an important form of recognition of material need. The scale of the programme offers direct acknowledgement of legitimate need to millions of households that live in poverty. In addition, it is explicitly designed to recognise the structural constraints that keep children poor. This is a significant achievement


Representation is the inclusion or exclusion from a community entitled to make justice claims, in other words, a matter of social and political belonging (Fraser 2009). This is an important question to ask at the local level in South Africa. The element of the CSG that is most persuasive in relation to the delivery of representation is the entitlement to the grant that is rendered by the constitution, regulations, and policies that lay out the criteria for inclusion. As a right, once a person falls into the targeted category (in this case primary caregivers of poor children under 18 years), they have no further burden to prove their worth or to fight for the privilege of a cash transfer. This is a significant delivery of representational justice. Notably, this is one of the only aspects of the CSG that has offered a transformative remedy to women’s poverty. While cash is an affirmative response to poverty, the entitlement to the grant transforms women’s political status as carers.

In summary, the more positive the CSG outcomes for women in relation to redistribution, recognition, and representation, the more opportunities and capabilities are built; the more negative the outcomes, the more opportunities and capabilities are weakened or undermined. There are substantive differences between affirmative and transformative remedies in the CSG. Many of its positive outcomes remain on the material and remedial side of the continuum of change, offering effective affirmative inputs. The CSG’s failures relate more to the non-material, structural issues, especially in the way it connects with services. Transformative social change has been thin and patchy for grant recipients. This is not surprising as transformative outcomes are far harder to achieve and require substantive shifts in social structures and power distribution.

A caring state

In her argument about care as a public good and good care provision as a pre– requisite for genuine gender equality, Nancy Folbre (2008: 375) makes the case for the ‘complementarities between the intrinsic merits and public benefits of care commitments’ as well as ‘the need to consider the financial costs of caring for dependents and their implications for government fiscal policy’. She draws on feminist theorists (such as Kittay 1999, 2002; Sevenhuijsen 1998, 2003a; Tronto 1993, 2010) who claim that the issue of care is a critical element in an ethical society, in relation to both the right to care and the right to be cared for. Their work embraces the substance and importance of relations of reciprocity, rather than autonomy, as a basic element of the ethic of care (Reddy et al. 2014). Folbre situates care in the context of a just society, as opposed to limiting the issue of care to private, individual lives. Thus, everyone deserves good long-term care, not just those who are lucky to have caring individuals in their lives or those who are able to pay for it on the market. A society that cares about care thus provides good social insurance that ‘pools risk, encourages reciprocity, and increases solidarity’ (Folbre 2008: 381). Care in this understanding can offer intrinsic merits and public benefits, both of which are important. Financial costs of care should not be borne by individuals alone but should be remunerated fairly. What is useful for South Africa about this argument is Folbre’s insistence that care is a productive investment, an insurance activity, rather than a purely consumption activity, as it contributes to the public good in real and meaningful ways. The transformation of care notions, behaviors, and policies thus contain potential for a substantive impact on gender and other inequalities in both public and private spheres.

In this study I put forward a broad understanding of care, focusing not only on the individual care activities of social reproduction (caring for) but also encompassing caring about. The question I am thus asking is: in what ways does the state care about its citizens? This question implies conceptualising care theoretically, not only as a labor (behavior) but also as an attitude (caring about) and as a ‘virtue’ (moral value) (Kittay 2002). Because care is structured not only by private relationships in families, households, and communities but also by social institutions and various forms of power relations (Reddy et al. 2014; Tronto 2010), it must be a ‘central analytic in social policy: a point at which social and cultural transformations meet with changing relations of welfare’ (Williams 2001: 470).

In response to analyses that make care visible (Reddy et al. 2014), and especially that expose the extent to which care is underpaid or unpaid (O’Brien 2012), feminists such as Folbre (2008) argue that a caring state must take into account the financial costs of individual care and in some way pay compensation for this.

Tessa Hockfled was an associate professor at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, at the University of Johannesburg.  Granting Justice is part of the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences collection and is available form HRSC Press at

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