“I last worked in 2017 as a domestic worker. When my contract ended, I did not qualify for UIF benefits since my employer failed to register me. I used to make some money doing washing and ironing. Since the pandemic, I haven’t had any work at all.” Silindile, 36 years old
As the country battles a third wave of coronavirus infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 14 day Adjusted Alert Level 4 lockdown with restrictions effective from 28 June 2021. The Black Sash is appalled that no social relief of distress measures were announced for unemployed people aged 18 to 59 years with little to no income.
The Black Sash has consistently said, unemployment, poverty and inequality has been compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. Social relief measures such as the grant top ups and the introduction of the Caregiver and Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grants – all of which were inhumanely and prematurely terminated – were essential interventions to address the humanitarian and economic crisis. The Caregiver Grant was terminated in October 2020 and at the end of April 2021 the Covid-19 SRD grant was also terminated. The pandemic and lockdown however continues.
“My husband and I have five children. We are both unemployed. I sell fruit and chips to make money. If the R350 grant was reinstated, I could buy a bit more stock at a cheaper rate. The grant will also assist my husband with bus fare to go look for work.” Lulama, 44 years old.
South Africa is faced with the highest expanded unemployment rate on record of 43,2% and over 11 million are unemployed. Economic sectors are still struggling to recover from the impact of previous lockdown measures. While stricter lockdown restrictions are necessary to save lives and contain further transmission of the virus, this will inevitably have a further negative impact on economic activity, livelihoods and jobs. Those who bear the brunt of this are mostly women, informal traders, those precariously employed and low income earners.
“I was last employed for five months as a Teacher Assistant until April 2021. I benefited from the Caregiver Grant until it was terminated. I want to apply for jobs but now I can’t afford the data to look for work online. I also need extra money to buy medication for my daughter since the clinic doesn’t always have stock of what she needs.” Nobuhle, 29 years old
It is imperative that stricter lockdown regulations be complemented by the immediate reinstatement of the Covid-19 SRD Grant. The grant’s eligibility criteria must be expanded to include unemployed women who receive a Child Support Grant (CSG) on behalf of children. On average, only about 30% of recipients of the Covid-19 SRD grant were women. About 98% of women are recipients of the CSG which made them automatically ineligible for the Covid-19 SRD grant.
Government must prioritize humanitarian relief measures as part of its strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. If this third wave is projected to last longer and have a higher peak than the previous wave of infections, then government has no justification for terminating income support measures. The Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, affirmed research which illustrated that the Covid-19 SRD and Caregiver grant were the most significant poverty reducing measures that the government implemented during the pandemic. Research shows that the roll out of relief measures led to a decrease in hunger and food insecurity levels. Income support also encourages economic participation, as well as stimulating local economic and job seeking activities.
In the absence of these crucial income support interventions, the number of households living below the Food Poverty Line (R585) will now escalate. Despite the Minister of Social Development making an application to the National Treasury to extend the Covid-19 SRD grant, the Minister of Finance failed to heed this urgent call. Black Sash research has found that people who were eligible but did not receive the Covid-19 SRD grant were more frequently skipping meals and rationing food in an effort to cope with increased food insecurity.
“I used the Covid-19 SRD grant to assist my family with groceries and to buy data to look for work. Since the grant was terminated, I can’t contribute at home or afford data or transport money to look for work.” Thandokazi, 24 years old
The Black Sash demands the immediate reinstatement of the Covid-19 SRD Grant until permanent Basic Income Support is phased in for those aged 18 to 59 years with little to no income. The value of the grant must be increased to the Food Poverty Line (R585), given the escalating costs of food, transport and electricity. The eligibility criteria for this grant must also be expanded to include unemployed women who receive the Child Support Grant on behalf of their children.
By failing to honour its constitutional and international obligations to provide social assistance for the unemployed who are excluded from social protection programmes, government is allowing the already serious humanitarian crisis to reach catastrophic proportions.
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