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Joint statement on extending special COVID-19 grants

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Civil society organisations call for an extension of the COVID-19 special grants to assist people who are unemployed during the state of disaster

As the death toll of the second wave of COVID-19 continues to devastate the country and lockdown Level 3 is extended by at least six weeks, the government still appears intent on ending the COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) Grant to unemployed persons. Our government cannot rightly call for social distancing and solidarity on the one hand and then, on the other, create conditions where the most vulnerable are robbed of the social protection needed to survive this crisis.

The SRD Grant has been a small but important policy that has helped millions of families put food on the table following a year of massive job losses and deep economic and social distress. It has been crucial at a time where the poverty rate increased sharply, and food prices continue to rise (PMBEJD). It is clear that the emerging humanitarian crisis which developed  last year during the first wave of infections, continues to unfold. Government knew to expect a second wave of infections and should have put the necessary protective measures in place, for individuals, households and businesses devastated by the economic crisis.

The #PayTheGrants campaign has been engaging with over a hundred applicants of the SRD Grant. Below are comments from persons who have benefitted from the grant:

“I have two daughters and I am very happy to get this relief grant so that we can buy bread. I am not happy at all that the grant is ending. These days, things are too expensive, nje. Even bread and butter is a lot. Please don’t take away our piece of cake.”
– Annastasia Masilela, Johannesburg

“It’s really helpful that we receive the grant due to our high rate of poverty. I feel it should be extended because there are no job opportunities. The grant serves as a very helpful resource, it’s more of a need than a want.”
– Pakiso Tsele, Soweto

“The grant affected me and my grandchildren a lot. I hope it can be increased to R500 – that would be so much better. It shouldn’t end, things are bad and we are going to suffer a lot. Our children can’t get jobs, it’s going to be really bad. I plead to our President to think about us, the poor.”
– Kedibone Molefi, Mahikeng

In a previous statement signed by over 160 civil society organisations, we called for the increase and extension of the SRD and Caregiver Grants until the end of March 2021, which marks the end of the financial year. After an intense campaign from civil society, the SRD Grant was extended for three months until the end of January 2021, but the Caregiver Grant was terminated. We called this out as egregiously anti-women since the Caregiver  Grant estimated to account for over half of the  poverty reduction of the social relief grants by itself. The Caregiver Grant is overwhelmingly received by women (95%), whereas women only make up a third of SRD Grant recipients. This can be corrected either through the reinstatement of the Caregivers Grant, or the amendment of the SRD Grant conditions to  at least include caregivers to qualify for the SRD grant.

We also highlighted the poor communication from SASSA with applicants for the SRD Grant, as well as the exclusionary conditions which have seen around one third of applicants being denied access to a grant. These are a few of the testimonies sent to us revealing the unfairness and frustration with the process:

“The grant was not paid to me. SASSA did not provide a reason for why it was not paid. It would have been a great help to my family if we received the grant since my parents do not work.”
– Tebogo, Soweto

“This has affected my family badly because now I can’t provide food. I am frustrated, this relief grant supposed to be there for unemployed people for life.”
– Chris Florence, Western Cape

“They declined me because I am IRP(5) registered, but I have not been receiving any income. I have two kids and we are without food. This process has left me feeling angry.”
– Morake, Ekurhuleni

The extension of the grant system stood out as one of the few positive measures that the government put in place to combat the worst global economic shock of this once in a century global pandemic. South Africa before COVID was already the most unequal country in the world (the wealthiest 10% of the population hold 90-95% of the country’s wealth) and that inequality has only increased since COVID.

While inequality is not due to COVID, it has been worsened by it; therefore removal of the relief measures will deepen suffering and inequality. It is deeply disturbing then that the National Treasury has become even more intransigent in providing emergency funding for critical needs, including for a vaccine despite numerous proposals put forward by civil society on how to unlock resources.

The facts have been clearly set out showing the critical importance of these social relief measures, and that removing them will plunge millions into poverty, and cause a deeper humanitarian crisis; and that extension of the grants can be financed.

We don’t accept the argument that resources cannot be made available to fund the grants. Coherent, evidence based proposals have been put forward showing that this is easily affordable.There has to be a clear plan from our government on averting such a humanitarian crisis.

Instead of terminating these grants, we have written to the President requesting a meeting where we can detail our demands for the:

  • Extension and increase of the COVID-19 SRD Grants to at least the food poverty line of R585 per person per month
  • Unduly harsh and narrow criteria for accessing the grant need to be reassessed.
  • Inclusion of Caregivers for the SRD Grant regardless of whether they are receiving a child support grant on behalf of their children.
  • Urgent progress towards implementation of the long overdue Basic Income Guarantee (Grant) for those aged 18 to 59 years.

We the undersigned organisations endorse these demands, and urge government to act speedily to implement them:

  • Black Sash Trust 
  • Centre for Applied Legal Studies
  • C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group 
  • Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) 

To include your organisation as an endorser of this statement, follow this link.