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‘Covid grant should be R585, so all people in SA can afford to eat’

Black Sash launches a report into the implementation and impact of the Covid-19 SRD grant.
The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant will be reinstated after it was terminated at the end of April 2021. The Black Sash has compiled a report on the implementation and impact of the grant. Archive photo: Masego Mafata

On Sunday July 25, 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the R350 Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant will be reinstated until March 2022.

The grant’s eligibility criteria have also been expanded to include unemployed caregivers who receive the Child Support Grant (CSG) on behalf of children. About 95% of CSG recipients are women and were excluded in the application criteria for the initial round of the Covid-19 SRD grant.

The Black Sash has compiled a report into the implementation and impact of the Covid-19 SRD Grant. The report will be publicly launched on Tuesday, 27 July 2021.

The report, ‘Social Protection in a Time of Covid: Lessons for Basic Income Support’, outlines some of the challenges faced by those who did (and did not receive) the R350 grant. It also illustrates the impact the small monthly grant makes in many households across South Africa.

The report strongly recommends that the Covid-19 SRD grant becomes a permanent form of basic income support (BIS) for those aged between 18 and 59 who have little to no income, and that this support is linked to the food poverty line. It recommends ways for the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) to improve the grant’s application system, the appeals and payment processes, and to develop a more effective communication strategy with applicants and beneficiaries.

At its inception, the Covid-19 SRD grant was an unprecedented moment in the history of social assistance in South Africa. From May 2020, South Africans between 18 and 59 who had previously been excluded from receiving social grants were eligible to receive R350 per month. The grant was extended to the end of January 2021 and again to the end of April 2021.

By July 2020 about 5.6 million people had been approved for the grant, at a cost of R4.8 billion per month. Additionally, about 7 million people who received child support grants on behalf of children were given a fixed amount of R500 per month between June and October 2020 – the caregiver grant.

Through the addition of these two programmes, social assistance in South Africa covered 71% of all households at its peak.

However, there were critical eligibility exclusions as well. The R350 grant excluded any 18- to 59-year-olds already registered on a national database (Sars, UIF, NSFAS) even if the registration was out of date), or who had received any money at all into their bank account (even R50). Refugees and special permit holders only became eligible for the grant in September 2020 after litigation. The R500 caregiver grant ended in October 2020 and was not renewed.

The application process

Many people, particularly the elderly and those in rural areas, did not have access to mobile phones, airtime and data to apply for their grants online. Approval was managed centrally by a GovChat team housed within the Sassa national office. People whose applications were rejected could appeal. At no stage was there a fixed time period for the processing of either applications or appeals.

The next hurdle was accessing the money once the grant was approved. The payment system was not very efficient and recipients often waited months for their first payment or skipped months. People who did not have bank accounts or the capacity to access their SRD grant via an e-wallet system, were forced to wait in very long queues at South African Post Offices (Sapo) in the hope of being paid their grant. These people, among the poorest in the country, often faced significant challenges getting to a Sapo branch that paid out this type of grant — only to find that the office had run out of cash or that the queues were so long they never even made it into the building.

When grantees received their money, most found R350 was too little to meet their monthly needs. During this period, most people we interviewed experienced dramatic changes to their diets, skipping meals, going to bed hungry, or eating only tea and bread.

While the grant might have prevented starvation, it did not adequately address the levels of hunger experienced by the poorest families in the country.

It was particularly challenging that Sassa required all grant claimants to have zero money coming into their bank accounts. If a family member put even R50 into the SRD grant recipient’s bank account, that would exclude them from being eligible for the Covid-19 SRD grant the following month.

Lockdown also disrupted and weakened people’s reciprocity networks. Many lost jobs and livelihoods, others faced job insecurity. The family members, neighbours and friends who previously were able to help were no longer available to, because they too were faced with precarity.

Creating a platform for a basic income grant

In rural areas, the highly technical application system for the Covid-19 SRD grant was hard and unfamiliar for many people, who could only get help from civil society organisations because many government offices were largely closed during this time. The grant payments at Sapo branches were often out of the way and far from where people live.

The inequity between rural and urban areas has been a longstanding problem inherited from colonialism and apartheid. It was perpetuated by the assumption that everyone could be accommodated equally by a single system. South Africa is a highly differentiated society; any ‘universal’ system exacerbates the challenges that many families and communities face.

Despite these many challenges and hardships, the introduction of the Covid-19 SRD grant drew people who had previously been excluded from state assistance grants into the social protection network, creating a platform for a basic income grant in the future.

The findings of our research show the urgent need to introduce permanent basic income support. The application and distribution systems must be accessible and administered in a way that people are not met with unnecessary, time-consuming, and expensive bureaucratic hurdles with no rural and urban differentiation. Hurdles such as disqualification upon receiving income in bank accounts or exclusion due to outdated databases need to be urgently addressed.

At the barest minimum, the grant should meet the food poverty line, currently at R585, so all people living in South Africa can afford to eat.

Theresa Edlmann works at the Black Sash. Engenas Senona is a Social Protection Expert. Dr Erin Torkelson is with Durham University. Dr Wanga Zemba-Mkabile is with the South African Medical Research Council.

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp.

© 2021 GroundUp. This article was first published here.

COMMENTS   27

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Only people who clearly attempts to find work must receive a grant. The lazy ones just sitting at home and wearing red berets must find a backbone…

R600 per unemployed adult is really not much and SA can pay that.

South Africa is rich with possibilities and natural resources.

We just have to manage better, like capture the mansion in Dubai, capture the Tax payer money in the Pakistani and Dubai banks.

Bring that back now

Country is bankrupt, not ‘rich with resources’. Where do you think the money comes from? Unless government slashes wages and retrenches people. Let’s do that first. In the meantime, there aren’t enough jobs due to government regulations and failed policies. Also, don’t breed them if you can’t feed them – especially considering the youth unemployment rates.

@Beeswax. No problem. Can SARS reduce your “primary rebate” so that you start paying income tax from a much lower R30,000 per annum? You first.

“SA can pay that”. Who is SA? Every taxpayer. More taxes.
(…the corrupt ANC will keep stealing…they’re unable to “manage better”.)

The ANC should listen to those non-political people that, for many decades, have strived tirelessly for human rights and real justice, and all effectively on their behalf. But no. Corruption comes first with the ANC.

Voters in a democracy determine and pay their own social benefits. The government owns nothing and earns nothing. The government only owns the monopoly on violence. The government does not have money to spend. When voters support a minimum wage, social grant, child grant, and free medical services, the institution that owns the legal monopoly on plunder and violence acts on their behalf to make money from some citizens, to spend on others.

With this reality in mind, who does Black Sash suggest should for the bill for the higher social grant? Who can survive with R585 per month? While you are at it, why not increase to something worthwhile like R5 850? Why waste time and effort to launch a campaign for small change?

When the Debt/GDP ratio is nearing 100% and the fiscal deficit is more than 10%, it means the government is borrowing the money to finance the social grant. Who lends this money for social grants? The savers of course. Who are the savers? The pension funds of course. Who are the pension funds? The Government Employees Pension Fund of course.

Do you want to tell me that the ANC members are using their pension savings to pay social grants to other ANC members? Of course! As we have said, voters pay their own social grants in a democracy. It is a game of musical chairs and the music stops when the Debt/GDP goes over 100%.

In effect, the recent anarchic looting spree by average citizens is the direct implementation of what Black Sash proposes. Citizens themselves took to the streets to plunder property rights for personal gain, rather than waiting for the government to do it on their behalf and stealing most of the proceeds in the process.

The evidence before the Zondo Commission has convinced the man in the street that the government is a very inefficient vehicle for the redistribution of property. The money that was supposed to benefit the masses, disappeared into Luthuli House. Clausewitz said that wars are the continuation of diplomacy by other means. When you have appointed politicians to plunder property owners on your behalf, and they only enrich themselves, it is clear that politics have failed you. You have to stand up and do it yourself.

Where the politically connected elite used BEE laws to benefit from legalized plunder, the masses benefit from plunder directly, in an illegal manner. Those individuals who have corrupted the law to legalize plunder have no moral authority to judge those who disrespected the same laws in the same way.

Enfilladed & skewered. It was a pleasure reading that.

Voters in a democracy determine and pay their own social benefits. The government owns nothing and earns nothing. The government only owns the monopoly on violence. The government does not have money to spend. When voters support a minimum wage, social grant, child grant, and free medical services, the institution that owns the legal monopoly on plunder and violence acts on their behalf and takes money from some citizens, to spend on others.

With this reality in mind, who does Black Sash suggest should foot the bill for the higher Covid grant? Who can survive with R585 per month? While you are at it, why not increase to something worthwhile like R5 850? Why waste time and effort to launch a campaign for small change?

When the Debt/GDP ratio is nearing 100% and the fiscal deficit is more than 10%, it means the government is borrowing the money to finance the social grant. Who lends this money for social grants? The savers of course. Who are the savers? The pension funds of course. Who are the pension funds? The Government Employees Pension Fund of course.

Do you want to tell me that the ANC members are using their pension savings to pay social grants to other ANC members? Of course! As we have said, voters pay their own social grants in a democracy. It is a game of musical chairs and the music stops when the Debt/GDP goes over 100%.

Giving free grants, WITHOUT ensuring a COMMENSURATE social responsibility on the recipient class, that STOPS the further growth of the problem, is a dangerous illusion of a “solution”, and only makes the problem WORSE!

We sit with the current problem ONLY because the do-gooders of 30 and 50 years ago did NOT want to face up THEIR responsibilities then.

Nothing has changed in this behaviour since.

Yes. Make the receipt of any grant conditional upon receiving contraceptive injections.

In Dar Es Salaam Tanzania I saw a man begging in the traffic, who had both his legs amputated beneath his knees after an accident – the government didn’t even give him a wheelchair or a pair of crutches! That is how it goes in some other countries in Africa. here we have more people on grants than those actually working. Where must all this money come from?

The increasing numbers of ‘directors’ that instead of actually “directing” do exactly as they are told (for inordinate amounts of shareholder money) is simply a perpetual and increasing stain upon the entire ‘holier than thou’ facade of the pro-oppressive ‘keep them down’ cheap labour fraternity. If only there were any semblence of any genuine anything.

The money comes from the faithful 5% that have funded ANC pockets since 1994.

The people that vote for a living now outnumber the people that work for a living

They could afford to eat a lot more if we had a half-decent ANC Government but that has got zero chance of happening. Since when did freedom and democracy mean the dependence of tens of millions of citizens on a self-serving Government?

It is very easy to start giving something. Try stopping

Also – can we have a statutory 12 month no parole for cheats? Several thousand government payroll people cheated on the last scheme : what happened to them? Dismissed, jailed?

As with almost everybody on the left, maths and economic realities aren’t the Black Sash’s strongest points.

It’s all good and well demanding “the government” pays R585 per month, but the government doesn’t have any money of its own. All of its money comes from taxpayer. There are only around 1.6m people who pay the bulk of the tax in SA.

So let’s do the sums: for every one of these 1.6m people, there must be – what – 20 people in need of a BIG? R585 multiplied by twenty is a cool R12000 or so every month less in your paycheck, due to the extra taxes required.

All that will happen, is that most of these 1.6m people, except for really the top earners, will fall right out of the middle class, into the working poor, and tax receipts will crash completely.

So no, sorry, Black Sash, your heart’s in the right place, but: you can’t get blood from an overtaxed stone.

Yep. Without a consummate increase in productivity (especially of food products), the increase in ‘free money’ will do nothing to raise anyone’s standard of living.

but hey, there are no socialists who understand economics. If they understood economics they wouldn’t be socialists.

Your numbers are very friendly. You forget that the ANC makes a good portion of the taxes collected go into strange channels / black holes.
Sheer magic – yet absolutely predictable.

The whole point of a BASIC income grant is that it is simple and easy to administer rather than the dozens of current programs – pensions, disability grants, student support and child support +++. Just simplify the system with one grant payable to anyone who can prove they exist. Make it taxable so if a rich person applies then the government will get 40% of the grant back in income tax. The cost will be less than trying to police a means test.

Dozens of government officials will be freed up to sit at counters at places like the department of home affairs and other useful tasks.

that’s fair enough. But it’s a game of chicken then – let’s see government employees blink first. If they start downsizing entire departments and retrenching government workers first then we can talk

Notice the facade of the Post Office in the pic – the tilting sign post too, the general grossness of the street. So the remedy to our ills is to give R585 out, yet the majority of our once beautiful nation is as decrepit and derelict as that godforsaken street? This is like giving a cancer patient a disprin. CadreZania has fulfilled its promise – a promise of decay, waste, theft, lies and soon death. The last few weeks were only the entree. Sorry to be so cynical but the volcano is bubbling

The Black Sash has for decades, done nothing about the cause of the social problems and poverty.

They are yet to pronounce on the explosion in population growth, which is the singular cause of most social ills.

Further, millions of women have children without enough resources – is it not criminal to have a child that you cannot afford?

All well and good – it would be wonderful to up the grants but…..who the hell is going to pay for it?????
There is no money….it’s been stolen….by the very people who should be looking after the previously disadvantaged!

Grant should read, “ANC vote purchasing scheme.”

Im sorry Cyril! I cant afford it!

40% of every R1 I make goes to a black hole. 🙁

There is a bi – directional relationship between Poverty/Inequality and Growth….

Poverty and Inequality a double wammy for the poor.
Poverty/Inequality –> impacts growth negatively
Negative growth –> further exacerbates poverty/inequality
We obviously cannot get GDP growth sorted out in SA… Most of the growth recently is due to commodity Boom…. So no worker productivity as such… but mainly due to price increases in resources.

–> Poor will be stuck in a infinite poverty trap…
–> Grants are temporary short term measures…
–> In the long run … We dont have a good story to tell….
ANC certainly doesnt have a good story to tell in 25 years

End of comments.

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