Call on Parliament to Reject the 2021 Budget
The 2021 Budget proposes real cuts to spending on socio-economic rights. This will have severe consequences in a time of unprecedented suffering and has to be challenged. If Parliament approves this Budget it will be walking away from its Constitutional mandate to ensure that the state does everything in its power to uphold our rights to education, health care, social grants, food, water, housing and land.
A Joint Sitting of the National Council of Provinces and National Assembly Finance Committees will table their joint report on the budget on 10 March. The Committee may approve, reject or require amendments to the fiscal framework proposed by the Minister of Finance.
On Tuesday, 09 March, an Open Letter was sent to Parliamentarians to reject the budget because it will do unprecedented and unjustified harm to socio-economic rights and is therefore unconstitutional.
Join 200+ Signatories Signing on to the letter
As social movements, trade unions, civil society and concerned individuals, we call on Parliament to reject the 2021 budget and protect human rights.
The approval of the 2021 Budget by our elected representatives in Parliament will result in the widespread violation of many of the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The Budget proposes deep funding cuts to public services amounting to hundreds of Billions of Rands which will have negative impacts on the majority of people in the country, while taxes on high incomes and corporate profits will be reduced. The real cuts to funding for education, health services, social grants and other critical areas of service delivery are indefensible in light of the extreme levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment we are facing in South Africa.
Over 18 million people who rely on the income support provided by social grants face a real decrease in the value of their grants. The paltry R10 increase to the child support social grant will not even buy a loaf of bread! Millions of learners in rural and township schools face rising class sizes due to a lack of teachers because of the reduction in funding for education. The public health system will be weakened by cuts to primary health care services and to public hospitals, while 300 000 people will not receive access to vital antiretroviral medicines due to budget cuts to the HIV/AIDS programme. The erosion of public services will entrench systematic discrimination against womxn, particularly black womxn, who in many cases will step in to fill the gap left by the state’s abrogation of its responsibilities.
The cuts to public services proposed in Budget 2021 break the Constitution’s promise to “improve the quality of life of all”
The Constitution states that the Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of democracy in our country. It requires the state to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights”. These rights include the right to basic education, the right to health care services, the right to social security and protection, the right to food, the right to water and sanitation, the right to housing, the right to a healthy environment, the right to fair labour practices and the right to redress and restitution of land.
The 2021 Budget tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on behalf of the Executive directly attacks these rights with severe funding cuts totalling -R265 billion over the next three years, including:
X -R67.2 billion to be cut from spending on public health;
X -R36.0 billion to be cut from spending on social grants, resulting in a real decrease in income for millions of recipients of the child support grant, disability grant, foster care grant, war veterans grant and the state pension; and
The list goes on. In total, government has proposed that “consolidated non-interest spending will contract at an annual real average rate of 5.2%.” In Rand terms, the austerity measures mean that government plans to spend R2 700 less per person on public services in real terms in 2022 compared with what it was spending in 2019.
Moreover, as the Financial and Fiscal Commission has noted in its submission to Parliament on the 2021 budget, “the erosion of real budgets for basic rights set out in the Constitution may well continue, even beyond the tabled medium-term plan”.
We believe that the 2021 budget is unconstitutional
While many socio-economic rights are subject to “progressive realisation within the states available resources”, this does not mean that government can simply assert that cutting funding for rights is necessary to reduce public debt.
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which South Africa signed up to in 1994 and ratified in 2015, sets global standards for protecting human rights. The Committee has said that for countries to justify cutting the funding for socio-economic rights, they must clearly demonstrate that the cuts are:
- temporary, meaning they will stay in place only so long as they are absolutely necessary;
- reasonable, meaning that they are the most effective way of achieving government’s larger aims;
- necessary, with alternative financing measures, including income, wealth and corporate taxes, exhausted;
- proportionate, in that their human rights benefits outweigh their costs;
- not directly nor indirectly discriminatory – this applies not only to specific budget cuts but to “fiscal consolidation” as a whole, which must be based on a fair sharing of burdens between social groups such as the rich and poor, the old and the young, womxn and men, present and future generations;
- implemented transparently and only after completing an assessment of their potential impact, which must be based on the meaningful participation of affected groups; and
- subject to meaningful review and accountability procedures.
We believe that the 2021 Budget fails to meet these standards.
We therefore, as social movements, trade unions, civil society organisations and concerned individuals, reject the 2021 Budget tabled by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni on 24 February 2021.
We call on Parliament to send the budget back to the Executive and require it to meet its socio-economic rights obligations and consider alternative ways of managing our public debt.
Please endorse the call before 12:00, Tuesday 9 March 2021