Last week eNCA reported that the Department of Social Development (DSD) stated that were it not for the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, the number of people living below the Food Poverty Line would have doubled. SASSA further revealed that currently over two million approved Covid-19 SRD beneficiaries have not been paid, while over one million people who were approved on appeal are yet to receive payment.
The triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality have been compounded by the pandemic. National Treasury denied DSD’s request for funding to extend the Covid-19 SRD grant beyond April 2021. Income support for millions of destitute people has been cut off, leaving them to face a Covid-19 third wave without any means to afford food and other basic necessities. There is no justification for terminating the Covid-19 SRD grant.
The NIDS-CRAM Wave 4 study further illustrates that the decision to terminate social relief measures, such as the grant top ups and the Covid-19 SRD grant, is not only premature but grossly negligent. The study paints a bleak picture of households still under strain faced with food insecurity and hunger. Researchers found that two thirds (67%) of households ran out of money to buy food in the previous month in at least one of the four NIDS-CRAM surveys. In households with children, one third of the respondents (32%) stated that in at least one of these surveys, a child had gone hungry in the past week. Child hunger is still nearly double pre-pandemic levels, which was 8% in 2018.
While the economy reopened, food insecurity and hunger remained high due to loss of income. Researchers argue that grant top-ups, together with the Covid-19 SRD grant, is mostly responsible for the decline in hunger during certain periods of the study. The study concluded that top-ups and special grants played an even more significant role than the easing of lockdown restrictions for improving food security. The study recommends the reinstatement of the top ups and Covid-19 SRD grant.
The NIDS-CRAM studies consistently reveal that women have been most impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown, and are recovering jobs at a much slower pace than men. Only 19% of women who were unemployed before the pandemic found employment by January 2021, compared to 31% of men in the same category. The Caregiver Grant benefited mostly women (95%) but was terminated in October last year and only about a third of women were recipients of the Covid-19 SRD grant. Unemployed women must benefit from income support measures, as individuals in their own right.
The NIDS-CRAM studies continually confirm that South Africa is in a deep humanitarian crisis. It also presents irrefutable evidence that direct cash transfers do and will prevent people falling deeper into poverty, and are the most effective tool at government’s disposal to protect the vulnerable from hunger and food insecurity. It further has the positive benefit of stimulating demand in distressed economies.
And yet, we have still not received a response to the request in our Open Letter to discuss our demand that the Covid-19 SRD grant be reinstated. Government’s continued silence and refusal to engage reflects a government that has simply abandoned its constitutional obligation to the vulnerable during an unprecedented health and economic crisis.
We repeat our demands that the Covid-19 SRD grant must be extended, increased to at least the Food Poverty Line, currently R585, and expanded to include unemployed women who receive the Child Support Grant on behalf of children. The Covid-19 SRD grant must remain in place until we have a policy framework as well as a secured budget for the implementation of a Basic Income Guarantee.
Any outstanding Covid-19 SRD grant payments must be made promptly and in a lump sum. It is gravely concerning that countless Covid-19 SRD beneficiaries, who have zero income to buy food for themselves and their dependents must suffer as a result of ongoing administrative issues which should have been resolved by now. SASSA must communicate to beneficiaries when outstanding payments can be expected.
Rolling back income support in the middle of an economic and deepening health crisis, goes against government’s constitutional mandate and is a political decision to reverse social protection, rather than progressively realising this right. If the Covid-19 SRD grant is not reinstated, government must urgently clarify what it intends to put in its place for those aged 18 to 59 years who are excluded from social security programmes.
– Issued by Black Sash, #PayTheGrants, Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) & The Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII).
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