Our taxes pay for many things we take for granted: roads, defence, civic services. But a large chunk also helps support those in need – children, the poor, the elderly, the disabled and even war veterans. Social assistance is an important part of South Africa's strategy to fight poverty, inequality and unemployment. Here's a breakdown of how your taxes help those in need.

SocialGrants Our taxes help over a quarter of population who rely on social assistance. And it is estimated that by 2018 government could spend R149-billion to help about 17.5-million people. (Image: Shamin Chibba)

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Research and text: Shamin Chibba

Graphic: Mary Alexander

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South Africa's Gini coefficient

South Africa is considered a country rife with inequality, mostly warped by our labour market. A Gini coefficient figure of 0 is considered perfect levels of equality and 1, perfect inequality, meaning one person has all the income. At his Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture address, French economist Thomas Piketty said of South Africa's inequality: "We know from historical experience that if inequality is not addressed, through peaceful means and peaceful democratic institutions, it’s always potentially a source for violence."

South Africa's social assistance does a great deal to lower its Gini coefficient score. Here's how:

Myths about grants

According to Africa Check, Many negative perceptions exist about social grants and their recipients, and a study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg shows that even beneficiaries themselves believe the stories. But how many are true?

"Grants make people lazy and dependent on the government"

Research by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) based in the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town, and the CSDA report claim there is little empirical evidence to support such a claim that people stop looking for jobs when they receive a grant.

"The child grant increases teenage pregnancy"

Africa Check says the claim is false as very few teenage mothers actually access the grant. Just 20% of teenage mothers were accessing a social grant by the mid-2000s and only 5% of all grant recipients were teenage mothers, which was considerably lower than the proportion of teenage mothers in the South African population.

"Parents claim grants for children who don’t live with them"

The CSDA report shows that 92.2% of beneficiary children lived with the caregiver in the household.

"Recipients misuse grant money"

The CSDA report shows that “[grant] monies are mainly used for food and some basic non-food items such as school fees and uniforms, health and transport”.