Home Opinion and Features Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant not enough ‒ activists

Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant not enough ‒ activists

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“The president’s projection for a recovered economy with significant employment opportunities by the end of 2021 is extremely unrealistic”

People queue for the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant. File picture: Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA)

CIVIL society organisations have dismissed the extension of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant by three months as inadequate because it falls short on long-term planning for social protection.

The national director of the Black Sash, Lynette Maart, said the Covid-19 pandemic continued to be an immediate threat and until there were large-scale vaccinations, everyone remained at risk.

“We are far from rolling out the vaccines widely and a third wave of the coronavirus is expected. Until then, economic growth will be constrained and sufficient access to health care, food and social security remain important lifelines.

“While we note the second three-month extension of the Covid-19 SRD grant, the government must immediately adjust the eligibility criteria to include adult women who are unemployed and who receive a Child Support Grant on behalf of children,” she said.

Maart said unemployment and hunger required immediate state intervention in the form of direct cash transfers to those who are unable to meet their basic needs.

“Close to 10 million people applied for the SRD grant and about three million people were rejected. We also know that more than seven million recipients benefited from the Caregiver Grant ‒ a grant the government terminated in October 2020.

“These figures illustrate how pervasive poverty and unemployment is. It further indicates that the president’s projection for a recovered economy with significant employment opportunities by the end of 2021 is extremely unrealistic,” she said.

Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) researcher Busi Sibeko said the government can afford to include caregivers and increase the R350 SRD grant amount to at least the Food Poverty Line of R585 per person per month.

“We note this especially in light of the IEJ adjusted scorecard on government spending which shows that only a third of the promised R500 billion Covid relief package has actually been spent.

“We have also seen that the National Treasury has received more revenue than expected ‒ with the overrun likely to be around R45.8 billion.

“To put this into context, the cost of extending and increasing the SRD grant to R585 for one year, and including caregivers, would amount to approximately R55bn to R75bn a year, depending on the level of uptake.

“While this may sound a lot, this improved Covid grant would give income relief to between eight and 11 million of the poorest South Africans, effectively supporting up to half the South African population,” she said.

Shaeera Kalla from C19 People’s Coalition said while the focus on jobs was important, cash transfers were a proven and immediate way to deal with hunger and to stimulate local economies.