Covid-19 social relief measures, a step in the right direction.

The Black Sash notes government’s social relief measures to alleviate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting nationwide lockdown on individuals and households. The measures are a step in the right direction.

We welcome the R250 increase of all grants and the R500 increase of the Child Support Grant (CSG). These top-ups will ensure that over 18 million beneficiaries are not plunged into starvation and they will act as a buffer against the economic impact of the lockdown and the pandemic.

The roll out of a temporary Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant to those who have little to no income is a significant new intervention. This adult grant must include parents who are unemployed, regardless of whether they are already receiving the CSG grant. The Black Sash urges government to increase the amount of the grant from R350 to at least R1,000. The current amount of R350 is significantly less than the value of the food parcel distributed by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), which ranges from R1 000 to R1 200.

Many South Africans are structurally unemployed. The formal economy is unable to absorb all those unemployed for the foreseeable future. The roll out of the temporary Covid-19 grant is the first step to a permanent Basic Income Grant for those between 18 to 59 years with little to no income. Our government is slowly moving towards the progressive realisation of social security.

Government is developing regulations and procedures to implement the new Covid-19 grant application and means testing process for applicants. These must not be an administrative burden for potential beneficiaries. The required documentation must be limited to an Identity Number (ID), the required documents for refugees and permanent residents, and contact details and/or bank account details. Provision must also be made for applications without IDs in terms of Reg 11 (1) of the Social Assistance Act for people who do not yet have an ID or have lost their ID. SASSA must use the databases of government entities including the Department of Home Affairs, Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) rather than place an onerous burden on beneficiaries to obtain and produce volumes of supporting paperwork at their own cost, or be sent from pillar to post to register for the grant.

It is public knowledge that the SASSA Call Centre has not been coping with the high volume of traffic. The Black Sash fielded complaints from the general public who have tried, without success, to contact the Call Centre. Furthermore, existing grant beneficiaries whose grants have been suspended for one reason or another have no recourse to having their grants re-instated. SASSA and government departments delivering social security services must urgently open up their offices to respond to the social and economic relief measures as announced by President Ramaphosa.

Commercial banks, under the auspices of Banking Association South Africa (BASA), must permanently waive all banking fees for all social grant beneficiaries so that they can benefit from the full cash value of their social grants. Further, SASSA needs to factor in the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant when it comes to the staggering of payments. Special day(s) must be set aside for the payment of the Covid-19 grant to avoid congestion and the potential spread of Covid-19 at payment channels.

The Black Sash cautiously welcomes the news that SASSA will soon be implementing a voucher and cash transfer technology-based system for food assistance. We note that about 250 000 food parcels will be delivered over the period of 14 days.

However, what is unclear at this stage is who will qualify for these food parcels and what the delivery system will be, given the very serious allegations of corruption within the food parcel distribution network, as well as other co-ordination challenges.

Corruption is most often a burden left to the poor to carry. We cannot allow this to be the case during a global health emergency. The economic and social measures put in place to help society’s most financially vulnerable must be protected from those who wish to steal from our people. The Black Sash urges government to appoint a temporary Social Assistance Ombudsman to ensure that those most in need are getting food parcels, are obtaining the full cash value of their grant, are protected against unfair bank or lending practices and are able to report corruption, favouritism and/or patronage within the system.


Black Sash: m