President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address announced a three month extension of the R350 COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, but falls short on long term planning for social protection, including a Basic Income Guarantee, which should be top priority.
The extension of the COVID-19 R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant for the next three months is a relief, as it buys time, but it is short-sighted and, in its current form, excludes Caregivers who are mostly women. The eligibility criteria for this grant must be amended so that caregivers are included; and the grant should be increased to at least the Food Poverty Line of R585 p/m. The economic crisis we face preceded the pandemic and will be long-term. We are therefore long past the instruments of “temporary relief”.
More than two weeks ago, along with other organisations who work with and represent grant claimants, we wrote to the Presidency, Ministry of Social Development and National Treasury requesting an urgent meeting to table our demands on social relief and grants. We have still not heard back. Therefore, while we welcome the short extension, we must also state that the government’s carelessness towards those who are most marginalised is evident in the failure to communicate timeously and consistently.
Leadership from the government is required to avoid further suffering and indignity as hunger continues to rise. In his SONA the President said he would “prioritise the economic empowerment of women” but byending the Caregiver grants and not allowing caregivers to apply for the SRD grants, the government is essentially saying to poor black women who have been the worst affected by the pandemic: You are on your own. Worse, hundreds of organizations have been calling for the inclusion of caregivers for months.
The government can afford to include caregivers and increase the R350 SRD grant amount to at least the Food Poverty Line of R585 per person per month. We note this especially in light of the IEJ adjusted scorecard on government spending which shows that only a third of the promised R500 billion Covid relief package has actually been spent. We have also seen that the National Treasury has received more revenue than expected – with the overrun likely to be around R45.8bn. To put this into context, the cost of extending and increasing the SRD grant to R585 for one year, and including caregivers, would amount to approximately R55bn-R75bn a year, depending on the level of uptake. While this may sound a lot, this improved Covid grant would give income relief to between 8 and 11 million of the poorest South Africans, effectively supporting up to half the South African population (if you consider that each beneficiary has at least two dependents). In that context, this is a small price to pay.
We view the Covid SRD grant as a bridge to a Basic Income Guarantee. The silence on a future BIG by the President during the SONA was deafening, despite his previous statement that engagement on implementing a BIG would take place this year. A BIG has widespread support from community organisations, trade unions, civil society organisations as one strategy to address systemic poverty in the most unequal country on the planet.
Structural inequality and systemic poverty preceded this pandemic and have only been worsened by it. While it is important that there be a focus on jobs, the reality is that this is a time of crisis and cash transfers are a proven and immediate way to deal with hunger and to stimulate local economies. There can be no recovery without continued, sustainable support; temporary relief is simply not enough at this critical stage and the focus on jobs and grants is not mutually exclusive; we need both.
Our request to meet with the government still stands; we need to work together to deal with the devastating effects of this pandemic. As members of the #PayTheGrants Campaign – endorsed by civil society, community organisations and trade unions – we are ready to work together, we need an urgent show of political will from the Presidency.
Released by the C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group, Black Sash and the Institute for Economic Justice.
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