Black Sash Media Statements

Amendments to SRD Regulations do not respond to the plight of people living in poverty. 

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Statement by Universal Basic Income Coalition  

4 April 2023 

The Department of Social Development (DSD) has once again, with the concurrence of National Treasury had to amend the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant Regulations to accommodate its extension. The only amendment made is that the grant payments expiry date has changed from the end of financial year of March 2023 to March 2024. In failing to amend the grant amount, the means test, and mechanisms for application and verification of income, government has once again failed to take the opportunity to address many of the challenges which have plagued access to, and implementation of, the SRD (R350 grant) since its inception, but particularly since new Regulations were introduced in April 2022. 

Civil society and like-minded organisations have consistently asked government to ensure that all adults who live in poverty receive the grant, which will allow beneficiaries to meet their basic needs and safeguard them against hunger. People should be able to access the grant without struggling with onerous criteria that are exclusionary by default. Civil Society Groups including: The Alternative Information and Development Centre, Black Sash, the Children’s Institute at UCT, COSATU, Institute for Economic Justice, #PayTheGrants, Social Policy Initiative, Women on Farms and Youth Lab have formed a Universal Basic Income Coalition to support the call for a basic income grant.  

The Coalition has been calling for the monthly SRD grant amount to increase from R350 to at least the monthly Food Poverty Line of R663 (in 2022 Rands) and to turn the SRD Grant into a permanent Universal Basic Income Grant for people between the ages of 18 to 59, progressively improving to the value of the Upper Bound Poverty Line of R1417 in 2022.  

A coalition members submission to DSD called for an increase in the pitiful amount of R350, and highlighted how the grant regulations are exclusionary and make the grant inaccessible for the most impoverished and vulnerable people in society. The exclusionary measures relate to: 

  • the fact that the online platform is only available in English, creating a barrier for those without internet access and non-English speakers;
  • limitations on beneficiary numbers by imposing a low-income threshold of R624 (this was aligned with the 2021 food poverty line but is no longer aligned with any measure of poverty);
  • the inclusion of a questionnaire requiring unnecessarily invasive questions and the use of an unacceptably broad definition of ‘income’;
  • reliance on flawed government databases to verify eligibility;
  • the use of bank verification processes that create large errors of exclusion;
  • a tedious and unfair review and appeals process; and
  • no provision for the extension of the grant beyond April 2024.

At its height (in March 2022), 10.9 million people relied on the SRD grant to survive, but the number of beneficiaries who receive the grant are now substantially lower because of the restrictive measures imposed by the provisions to ensure that the number of beneficiaries who qualify are limited to an arbitrary budget cap imposed by Treasury. On 15 February 2023, Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu revealed that as of the end of January SASSA received over 13,5 million applications for the CoVID-19 SRD. Yet, despite this need, only 7,48 million people were approved in January- i.e.  3.5 million fewer people were approved to receive the grant in Jan 2023 than March 2022, please refer to table in Appendix A. This indicates a massive rate of exclusion. 

The scale of the unemployment crisis is such that there is no prospect of the majority of the unemployed finding work in the short term, underlining the critical need for social security interventions to be expanded: In quarter four 2022, Stats SA recorded that 11. 8 million people were unemployed, with the vast majority of them being long term unemployed. Even if we only consider those who are unemployed according to the narrow definition (excluding discouraged work seekers) 78.3% of them are long term unemployed.

Poverty, inequality, and unemployment are the most profound crises confronting democratic South Africa. A comprehensive response to our socio-economic crisis should include effectively implementing job creation programmes, supportive economic and industrial policies that stimulate job creation, and providing quality basic services in conjunction with permanent basic income support. 

With such high levels of unemployment and poverty in South Africa, the SRD Grant is not only a lifeline, but has also been shown to promote job seeking, job creation and economic activity. There are, for example, success stories of the youth using the SRD grant to start up their own small businesses. However, many beneficiaries do not have the option of saving up their grant to start their own businesses as they must use the whole SRD grant for daily necessities such as food and electricity. The SRD grant is vital for addressing poverty, hunger and unemployment in South Africa. Discontinuing it will leave millions of people hungry and destitute, as will failure to address the large exclusion errors. 

Government has mentioned budget constraints in funding the SRD Grant and National Treasury has suggested that it is unaffordable. However, government reported a R94 billion revenue overrun in the recent Budget. Rather than addressing South Africa’s hunger crisis, Treasury is choosing to prioritise reducing the country’s debt more aggressively than is necessary. In the latest amendments to the SRD Regulations, Treasury has added a clause specifying that payments are limited to the budget appropriation for this year, thus ignoring the concerns raised by civil society, that the budget allocation is far too low to even reach the group of people living below the food poverty line, as indicated by government's own statistics. 

It is now clear that none of the issues civil society has repeatedly raised will be addressed unless we use alternative means to compel government to address them. Members of the Coalition have repeatedly submitted detailed comments and reasonable proposals for improving the regulations at every step. Unfortunately, these comments and proposals have been wholly ignored. The Coalition will look at a range of methods to pressurise government to address these legitimate concerns. 

Finally, at least one member of the Coalition has now reached the point where it feels that it may have no option but to pursue legal action, and others might consider joining. Litigation may be the last resort, but it is critical that issues of unfair exclusion affecting millions of SRD applicants are addressed urgently. Therefore, litigation may be one of a range of options that may be considered going forward.

Media Contacts:

Institute for Economic Justice

Dalli Weyers

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +27 82 460 2098

Black Sash

Akona Gwiliza

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +27 84 070 9867

Media can contact Black Sash for DSD submissions.

This statement is supported by: The Alternative Information and Development Centre, Black Sash, the Children’s Institute at UCT, COSATU, Institute for Economic Justice, #PayTheGrants, Social Policy Initiative, Women on Farms and Youth Lab.