The Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant was initiated in March 2020 as a measure to support individuals affected by the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The grant continues to be essential for many who still bear the impact of the Covid-19 lockdowns and economic downturn, and the attendant high levels of unemployment in South Africa. The SRD grant has benefited over 10 million recipients, who rely on the R350 as a means for survival.
In April 2022, government, in an attempt to reduce the budget for grants and without consultation, passed Regulations which decreased the qualifying threshold for the SRD grant from R595 to R350. What this meant was that a beneficiary could not have more than R350 a month in their bank account (regardless of where this came from), otherwise they were considered “too rich” for the SRD grant and would be disqualified as a beneficiary.
In June 2022, Black Sash, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), launched an urgent application to the High Court in Pretoria, challenging the arbitrary and exclusionary nature of this new qualifying requirement, amongst other grounds of review.
Our litigation raised various issues, including the use of exclusively digitised systems (online platforms) for applications for the SRD grant; regulations privileging bank verification information above other information from applicants to verify their eligibility; the impossibly low income threshold of R350; and the fact that the Regulations prohibit any new information and evidence being provided when beneficiaries appeal rejections of an SRD grant application.
The devastating impact of these issues was such that previously (up to March 2022), an estimated 15.5 million people were applying monthly for the SRD grant, but after the April Regulations were passed, fewer than 10 million people made applications for social assistance. This means that around 16 million fewer applications were made for the SRD grant over the three months to June 2022.
On 16 August 2022, and in direct response to the court challenge instituted by Black Sash, the Department of Social Development (DSD) announced amendments to the SRD grant Regulations that addressed two of the key issues raised in our litigation in June, namely:
- Increasing the income threshold for qualification for the SRD from R350 to the lower bound food poverty line; and
- Removing the privileging of bank verification information when assessing an application for the SRD grant.
- It is only through the persistent actions by Black Sash that DSD moved to swiftly review the Regulations and make amendments that benefit millions of South Africans.
In response to the amended Regulations, which are welcomed, we have since withdrawn the legal application. It nevertheless remains disheartening that it took a legal challenge for DSD to change its course and adopt a human rights-based approach to the grant system.
We continue to advocate for the urgent introduction of permanent basic income support.
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