The Black Sash welcomes President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant is extended to March 2023, as stated in his State of the Nation of Address (SONA).
As the President rightfully indicated, the benefits of the SRD Grant cannot be underestimated. We are pleased that the President considered proposals from a meeting Black Sash and other members of a civil society collective had with the Presidency last month. Recommendations discussed in this meeting included the extension, increase and improvement of the SRD Grant, broader consultation with civil society to develop a basic income support policy, and pathways to a universal basic income. It is crucial that the government addresses the glaring gaps in the current social assistance framework for the unemployed. In line with this, a permanent Basic Income Support programme for those aged 18 to 59 years with little to no income must be implemented before the SRD Grant is terminated in March 2023.
Poverty, inequality and unemployment are not mere challenges, they are the most profound crisis confronting democratic South Africa. A comprehensive response to our socio-economic crisis should include effectively implementing job creation programmes, creating an enabling environment for job creation to flourish, and providing quality basic services in conjunction with permanent basic income support.
While government’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery plan and the Presidential Employment Stimulus Programme sound promising, they are not sufficient. The test for these plans and programmes remains whether the state is capable of efficiently implementing what has been promised. Corruption and state incapacity must be more urgently addressed since they remain some of the biggest threats to service delivery and economic growth. With more than 12 million people unemployed, and youth unemployment having reached alarming proportions, it is unlikely that enough jobs can be created anytime soon for the millions who are unemployed, facing food insecurity and despair. The introduction of additional job creation programmes to address youth unemployment is a step in the right direction.
The SRD Grant is not a handout or a burden, but a constitutional imperative which aids economic growth and is an investment in our collective future given its proven positive benefits. Research shows that income support leads to better nutritional and educational outcomes, social cohesion, job seeking behaviour and stimulates local economies. It encourages economic activity and helps to empower women who bear the burden of unpaid Caregiving work and Gender-Based Violence.
Permanent basic income support for those aged 18 to 59 years with little to no income is inevitable given government’s constitutional and international human rights obligations. Despite the undignified and inadequate value of the SRD Grant, and its systemic flaws, it is a work in progress and provides the most immediate pathway to a permanent basic income support programme and ultimately a universal basic income.
Given that the existence of the R350 SRD Grant is dependent on the National State of Disaster, which will be lifted soon, the SRD Grant must now be empowered by the Social Assistance Act. Incorporating the grant into the social assistance legal framework will help to begin the process of phasing in permanent income support for those aged 18 to 59 years with little to no income.
Together with our community and other civil society partners, the Black Sash will intensify advocacy efforts to increase the value of the grant to at least match the Food Poverty Line (currently R624) and address its administrative and design flaws, so that beneficiaries can access the grant in an efficient and dignified way. We look forward to the Presidency honouring its commitment to continue to engage with civil society and consider policy proposals for the design of permanent income support which must be implemented when the SRD Grant comes to an end.
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