Covid-19

Maverick Citizen #Lockdown

Who is blocking emergency relief for the poorest households?

Philang Special School children enjoy their meals during the ‘Chefs who Share – the ART of Giving’ veggie box cook-off in Kwa-Thema on September 23, 2016 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

On Monday Maverick Citizen reported on an important letter sent to President Ramaphosa by an influential group of children’s rights organisations, academics and international bodies, including UNICEF, calling for the Child Support Grant to be increased by R500 for the next six months.

An increase in the Child Support Grants (CSG), the letter’s authors argued, was considered an essential intervention to mitigate child hunger and stimulate the economy during the Covid-19 emergency, and was backed by meticulous research and a careful costing by economists advising the Presidency. The proposal reportedly went through both the National Command Centre and Cabinet.

This afternoon, however, Maverick Citizen has learnt that the call for an increase to the CSG appears to have been delayed by the Minister of Finance. This is despite the fact that it had won the support of the Presidency which, insiders say, “championed it through Cabinet”.

Maverick Citizen was also were informed that the proposal has gained support from the Department of Social Development (DSD) and from the economic cluster in government. Outside of government, the private business sector is also said to be in support, while there is also a high level of convergence between academics and NGOs across social and economic sectors on this measure.

In the words of one frustrated person close to the process, Tito Mboweni, who various sources have told us is often absent from key discussions, arrives to exercise a (constitutionally non-existent) veto power. It is thought that he regards additional spending on the CSG as an untenable burden on the fiscus, rather than a possible stimulus – and a life-line to households facing unemployment and starvation.

Perplexingly, this approach continues to differentiate South Africa, which President Ramaphosa has repeatedly said is committed to pro-poor policies, from much more conservative governments in developed countries.

The failure to make a decision, and the resistance of Mboweni, is the worst news possible for poor people as they go into a long Easter weekend when even the ‘open’ parts of the government will shut down for the public holiday. It exacerbates anxiety because, reports we are receiving from members of the C-19 People’s Coalition all over the country indicate, promises of food parcels have not materialised for millions of caregivers with children. Food parcels will be an important part of the strategy to mitigate hunger during the lockdown, but will take a long time to get off the ground and it will be hard to ensure all people in need are covered.

According to activists, even caregivers who managed to get through on the designated call numbers (which are not toll-free) are still waiting for food.

Instead, the only news that came out this week was that grant payments would be delayed to avoid the end of month shopping rush. For the CSG beneficiaries the usual payment date of 1 May has been moved to 6 May.

Children (and the households that effectively depend on their grants) are the last in the queue for payment.

While this sounds a reasonable measure to limit social interaction and avoid congestion, what this means for children is that their caregivers now have to wait an additional five days to get their next grant.

It means that families with children will have had to survive on R440 per child for 35 days during the lockdown and no school meals due to the closure of schools. In a normal month, they would get R440 for 30 days plus a meal a day at school.

Furthermore, the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) food-parcels are being targeted at non-grant recipients irrespective of whether they get a R1,800 old-age pension or a CSG of just R440.

For example, according to a children’s organisation working in the Eastern Cape and assisting clients to get SRD, people have been told that if they receive a social grant they cannot apply – even though it’s a meagre R440/month for a mother and child.

On the other hand in the Western Cape, the Provincial government have tempered their SRD policy and said that grant beneficiaries can apply — but they will not be assisted first and will need to wait for the next run. That means they too are not likely to get any relief this Easter weekend.

Unfortunately, at this point the decisions to delay grants, close down the school feeding schemes, deny SRD food-parcels and resist increasing the CSG means that the government has actually given less income and food relief to poor children during the Covid-19 lockdown, a recipe for hunger, anger and instability.

Whilst there is some confusion as to whether a decision has been delayed or denied, it is understood that there are important Treasury meetings early next week. A small window therefore still remains open for an increase that could still be factored into the May grants payments. The question is, is the government up to its promises and constitutional duties to the poor. Easter Weekend is a time for praying for many. This should be the subject of prayers. DM/MC

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