South Africa’s middle class comprises only 15% of its total population, said Jeff Radebe, Minister in the Presidency Responsible for Planning and Monitoring

Radebe spoke on Thursday at the launch of the fourth wave or fourth iteration of the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), a household panel survey in South Africa initiated by government to understand poverty patterns in the country.

In the fourth version of the study, which reflects the data of 2014/15, it was found that the middle class was relatively small and that only 15% of South Africans spent between R2 929 and R10 678 a month – the definition of being middle class.

However, there has been a significant demographic transformation in that Africans were outnumbering whites by about 2 to 1 in the middle class band. Africans were still underrepresented in the middle class in general, Radebe said, if one takes into account the overall population dynamics.

The fourth iteration of the NIDS also found that three-quarters of the people who were poor in wave one (the first year in which the study was done) remained poor over a period of six to seven years.

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‘Trapped in poverty’

“We can conclude,” Radebe said, “that these people are effectively trapped in poverty and will require policy interventions that will address the structural issues in the economy.”

The NIDS also showed that government’s interventionist policies, such as no-fee schools and child support grants were making a tangible difference in the lives of poor South Africans.

“The no-fee schools policy alleviated the circumstances of poor households by decreasing educational spending for them,” Radebe said, while the recipients of child support grants for people between 16 and 19 were more likely to attend school than non-recipients.

In his budget speech in February this year, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated R457,5 billion to be spent on social grants over a three-year period.