Under Government's GEAR policy, high levels of expenditure on social services (i.e. Social Development, Health, Education and Housing), failed to bring about a reduction in poverty and unemployment. The Government, in particular the National Treasury, blamed this outcome on the inefficiency in the delivery of social services. The "Left", especially COSATU and its civil society partners, however, claimed that Government's commitment to conservative deficit targets under GEAR resulted in deep cuts in spending on social services.
In this paper we examine the claim from the "Left" that social spending was cut under GEAR and that this reduction led to a decrease in the quantity and quality of social services. We first analyse budgeted as well as actual spending on social services during the GEAR period (1996/7 to 2000/01). Figures were adjusted for the effects of inflation and population growth. We also examine social spending's share of total expenditure and of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). We find that while budgeted and actual social spending and social spending as share of the budget increased, actual per capital social spending and social spending as share of GDP decreased over the period. We also find that social spending as share of GDP declined by less than total expenditure's share of GDP. The evidence is therefore not conclusive enough to substantiate the claim that social spending was drastically cut under GEAR.
Next we examine the trends in social service delivery during the period to form some preliminary impression of whether the quality and quantity of service delivery did decline over the GEAR period. Again, the data does not show clear evidence of a decline in the quality and quantity of services provided over the period.
Our analyses do not provide conclusive evidence for either Government's or COSATU's claims and this debate continues to influence other debates around issues like the introduction of a basic income grant, a minimum package of education services, the realisation of basic socio-economic rights and the redesign of the equitable share formula which directs funding to the provinces.