Activists call for a task team to find ways to boost Covid grant

Activists call for a task team to find ways to boost Covid grant

Social protection provides a lifeline but it’s not enough, say researchers

By Marecia Damons

The Black Sash has called on the government to set up a task team to work out how to increase the R350-a-month Covid Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant to the food poverty line of R624.

Speaking at the launch of a research report on social protection, Black Sash national director Rachel Bukasa said: “Government tends to hide behind the fiscal argument and doesn’t want to engage. They need to put researchers, economists, people from civil society and other roleplayers in a room, and have them show how this can be made affordable.”

“As civil society, we are saying we can afford it and we can show you how we can afford it. So why aren’t you prepared to listen?” said Bukasa.

The report, released by the Black Sash and the Human Sciences Research Council, looked at the current policy framework and delivery of social grants.

The researchers called on the government to develop a policy framework that directly addresses structural inequality and injustice instead of only providing a “safety net” for the most vulnerable. They said the current social assistance system only offered “economic protection” instead of social protection and served “as a bandage intended to alleviate the extremes of poverty and unemployment”.

Bukasa said permanent Basic Income Support (BIS) for people aged 18 to 59 years who have little to no income was necessary as “a key component of a social protection floor”. But, she said, it was just the beginning of “developing a transformative social protection system”.

The researchers interviewed 19 applicants for the SRD grant. Participants said they had not had enough food during the lockdown and had to skip meals; more than half said they had to borrow money for food. They also cited problems with connectivity and the cost of data when trying to apply for the grant online.

Participants who received the grant money through their bank said it was more convenient than going through the Post Office and they were willing to accept the bank charges involved. Those who received their grant through the Post Office complained of long queues and delays. Participants sometimes left their homes between 3am and 6am to travel to a post office and secure a spot in the collection line.

“Yet, an early arrival does not mean early receipt of money, as participants spent several hours waiting to be helped,” the researchers said.

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