• Lambert Engelbrecht Department of Social Work, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.



Household debt in South Africa has grown significantly relative to income over the past twentyyears under the guise of financial liberalisation (FinMark Trust, 2007). Currently householdsspend approximately 60c to 70c of every rand of their income on repayment of debt (Gous,2008; Van Rooyen, 2008a). During the past decade the disposable income, financial assets andnet prosperity of households have therefore not accrued to the same extent as their debtobligations. For this reason households’ savings are urgently needed to contribute to alessening of the country’s current account deficit in order to sustain economic growth and jobcreation (Van Tonder, 2008). On the macro level, economic growth and job creation form partof the ideal underpinning the social development philosophy in South Africa. This ideal is tocombine social welfare assistance with developmental strategies, thereby promoting botheconomic and social development in order to strengthen people’s capacity to enhance theirsocial and economic inclusion and alleviate poverty (Patel, 2005:118). Social work, as aprofession within the social development paradigm, is primarily focused on the poorest of thepoor households (Department of Social Development, 2006). In the context of a relativepoverty line, set in relation to changing standards of living (Statistics South Africa, 2007), apoor household is to be understood when the household’s condition of poverty endures over aperiod of time, when the household has an inability or lack of opportunity to improve itscircumstances over time, or to sustain itself through difficult times (Aliber, 2001:2). Research(Collins, 2007; Rand, 2004) has shown that poor households have the highest debt to incomeratio. For this reason social work intervention focusing on household debt is also essential onthe micro level within the social development paradigm in order to reduce households’financial vulnerability (Engelbrecht, 2008a).


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