Natalie Johnson

Disability services sector facing a crisis

Compiled by: The Western Cape Network on Disability, partnering with member organisations


On 20 February 2024, the Western Cape Network on Disability (WCND), in partnership with several member organisations, released an Impact Report on the potential implications of Department of Social Development (DSD) budget cuts on the disability Non-Profit service sector. This report can be accessed here: Budget Cuts by South African Government (Part 1)

Following the receipt by many organisations of notices of funding from DSD, the WCND conducted a further brief survey in order to assess the actual funding situation of organisations that provide services to persons with disabilities in the Western Cape. The original impact report detailed the very real risk of organisation closures and downscaling in the face of threatened budget cuts, and the dire implications of this for both children and adults with disabilities and their families. The follow-up survey results presented here bear out these concerns as organisations, now with a clearer picture of their DSD funding, are having to make difficult decisions about how to “do more with less”.

Before presenting these results, there are two points to bear in mind:

  1. Organisations reported that their funding had stayed the same i.e. there was no decrease to their allocation from DSD. While this is appreciated, the fact that many organisations have not had a funding increase for several years (organisations report up to four years with no increase) essentially means that this is experienced as a decrease in funds on the ground. With the cost of living rising, and more and more people with disabilities relying on Non-Profit services, organisations are, despite retaining their DSD funds, having to downscale services.
  2. DSD calls on organisations to become “self-sustaining” i.e. to explore other funding streams and income generation so as not to rely fully on DSD allocations. As highlighted in the original Impact Report, while many organisations are actively sourcing other funds, the challenge remains that most social investment funding includes stipulations against covering running costs and salaries. The implications of this are illustrated in the below results, as the primary impact of budget cuts is the need to retrench specialist staff, notably Social Workers.

“We understand the downturn in the economy and the direct knock-on effect it has on all departments, however, decreasing the funding to NPOs and PBOs that are implementing the incredibly necessary work for the most vulnerable of our society is counter-productive. We facilitate the growth and development of individuals to enable them to be less reliant on Government grants. Limiting our work can only increase the reliance on Government support”Chris Steytler Industries for the Disabled


A brief survey was designed and disseminated to WCND member organisations. The survey aimed to determine:

  1. Whether organisations had received notification on funding from DSD,
  2. Whether their funds had increased, decreased or stayed the same,
  3. If funds had decreased, by what percentage, and
  4. What this decrease translates to in real terms with regards to services for people with disabilities.

A limitation of this brief survey is that it did not ask organisations about their compliance to DSD reporting and governance stipulations. Further investigation of the correlation between funding decreases and compliance can be explored in future reporting, however, as this report focuses largely on organisations who have received preliminary or final notifications of funding from DSD, we can assume that they are likely to be compliant. The issue of ever-increasing compliance requirements in relation to decreasing capacity was also raised by survey respondents as a concern (see results).   

Forty-two surveys were returned, including 3 duplicates. This leaves the total completed surveys at 39. Of these, 24 organisations are members of the WCND in good standing, and 2 are members with outstanding membership fees. The remaining 13 organisations are not currently members of the WCND.

Of these 39 organisations, 33 have either received preliminary or final notices from DSD on their budget allocations for 2024-2025. The remaining had not yet heard, or were unsure on their budget allocations. Below, the results of the survey are summarised, with some quotations from respondents to populate the quantitative data with a deeper understanding of the ground-level impact of DSD budget cuts.

“Government keeps NGOs accountable in terms of meeting compliance, which is acceptable, but they do not realise that if they do not increase funds, especially to match inflationary provisions, it impacts on the quality of services rendered. Most NGOs work with limited and strained budgets, and meeting all high-ended compliance requirements requires constant development and financial resources. Our costing to provide services on behalf of Government is far less than other agencies. Government needs to understand the realities that NGOs face daily. In light of all the corruption and misappropriation of funds in this country it makes us very angry to be told funding stays the same or it has been reduced when the need for service provision and support increases exponentially”De Heide Special Care Centre


The situation of survey respondents who have received notification of funding from DSD is as follows:

  • 19 organisations (57.6%) have had their funding decreased
  • 11 organisations (33.3%) have had their funds remain the same
  • 1 organisation (3%) has been defunded entirely
  • 2 organisations (6%) have had their funds marginally increased

As noted, even organisations where funding allocations have remained the same are under pressure as the cost-of-living increases and demand for services grows. As the respondent from Glendale Home for persons with Intellectual Disabilities states: “We keep losing sources of income. Our donations are dropping, number of families who can afford paying fees are shrinking, receiving social investment grants has never been harder. DSD keeps increasing compliance requirements while reducing funding, all of which makes it very hard for NGOs to stay open, and, as it is, demand for our services is so high that we aren’t coping”.

Similarly, the respondent from Sibongile Day and Night Care Centre noted that despite their funding staying the same, the cost of food and petrol continues to increase, causing the organisation to struggle.

“We are at risk of closure. Over three years our funding has decreased by almost R400 000. We have asked to appeal. I am also seeking a meeting with the Premier [of the Western Cape] to ask why the department can’t look at its structure and retrenchment processes”Iris House Children’s Hospice

A further problem with stagnant budgets is that staff at many organisations who provide essential care and support services have not received salary increases for at least four years according to the survey. respondents.

Turning to organisations with decreased budget allocations, the percentage decrease of funds is as follows:

  • Less than 1% cut: 2 organisations (10.5%)
  • 1% -10% cut: 6 organisations (31.6%)
  • 11% -20% cut: 5 organisations (26.3%)
  • 21% -30% cut: 3 organisations (15.8%)
  • Not sure: 3 organisations (15.8%)

While these figures are helpful, it is important that we understand what they translate to in real terms for Non-Profit disability support services and care. For this purpose, we highlight a few cases from the survey results below:

  • Breede Valley Association for Persons with Disabilities provides therapeutic, community and social development services to persons with disabilities in Worcester, Rawsonville, De Doorns and Touws Rivier. A 5% budget decrease translates to their Day Care Centre having to cut down its operations by five hours a week in order that staff receive minimum wage. Over recent years, Social Work services have also had to be downscaled and staff have not received a salary increase.
  • Cape Town Association for the Physically Disabled offers vocational training, protected employment and Social Work services to persons with disabilities on the Cape Flats. Facing a 15% budget cut, concerns include people with disabilities being subject to abuse and neglect without day-care and protected employment services, food security for disabled people in the community without Social Work services, and inability to provide food support at programmes offered at the organisation.
  • ChangeAbility provides community development for people with disabilities related particularly to health awareness, assistive devices and skills development in the Cape Winelands (Cloetesville, Kayamandi, Groendal and Macassar). A 16% budget cut means downscaling Social Work services. They will now be able to employ only one Social Worker, where there were previously two, who will need to support approximately 500 beneficiaries.
  • Down Syndrome Association Western Cape provides counselling, information and support services to all affected by Down syndrome and similar intellectual disabilities, with an emphasis on promoting quality of life. Their budget has been decreased by 15% while their expenses have increased. Staff have not received an increase for two years and the organisation is having to “do more with less”.
  • Huis Horison in Stellenbosch is a residential care centre providing a safe space for people with intellectual disabilities to live, work and socialise. A 23% budget cut is forcing the organisation to charge families for services, many of whom are not in a position to pay and therefore are withdrawing their loved ones from services. Staff are concerned about these beneficiaries being at home, as family members may not have the resources and skills to provide sufficient care, stimulation and development.
  • Siyabonga – Huis van Danksegging (part of West Coast Disability Forum) provides capacity building and learning opportunities for people with disabilities, as well as support to disability sector organisations on the West Coast. Facing budget cuts, they have had to “cut service delivery to the bone,” and are on the verge of closure.


The WCND has also experienced a decrease of 5% to our already shoe-string budget. This results in an ongoing struggle to support our members with capacity building, networking opportunities, information and awareness, and advocacy on key issues related to disability rights and inclusion. We are having to rely increasingly on volunteers to give their time (such as the time given to write this report), and the threat of closure is ever-present, however, in line with our mission and aims, we are committed to support our members to advocate around the issue of government budget cuts through providing information such as this report.

People with disabilities have the right to dignity, and to access quality care and opportunities to learn, develop and make a societal contribution. We are certainly a vulnerable community in that our needs are readily overlooked by Government, the corporate sector and society at large, however, where there is support and commitment to safeguarding human rights and fostering human potential, there is the possibility of an empowered, secure and vibrant disabled community, able to contribute to South Africa’s rich diversity.

The dire situation and plea of the disability Non-Profit service sector is best captured by our member organisations who are providing essential care and support on the ground. Below, they have the last word.

“We urge the department to please reassess the funding allocations and assist us with the funds to be able to deliver a more effective service”Western Cape Association for Persons with Disabilities