President Cyril Ramaphosa, during his speech on Tuesday night, announced an increase in the child grant, a number of other grant increases and a new way to distribute food aid as part of government’s R500-billion plan to boost the economy and relieve social distress caused by the lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19 infections.
In March the president declared the outbreak of Covid-19 infections in SA a National Disaster. He then announced a hard lockdown that required all but essential workers to stay at home and only go out to buy food or for medical emergencies.
According to statistics released earlier by civil society, the decision to increase the child support grant by R300 for May and R500 for the next five months will provide significant financial relief to more than 13 million people.
New initiatives announced by the president on Tuesday night included: An increase in the child support grant of R300 for May and R500 from June to October. An increase of R250 per month for all other grants over the next six months. A special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant of R350 per month for the next six months for all who are unemployed and not receiving grants or UIF payments.
Ramaphosa also announced the roll-out of food assistance in the form of vouchers and cash transfers by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) within the next few days as well as another 250,000 food parcels to be distributed countrywide by the Department of Social Development, the Solidarity Fund, NGOs and community-based organisations.
“Poverty and food insecurity have deepened dramatically in the course of just a few weeks. To reach the most vulnerable families in the country, we have decided on a temporary six-month coronavirus grant. We will direct R50-billion towards relieving the plight of those who are most desperately affected by the coronavirus.
“This means that child support grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R300 in May and from June to October they will receive an additional R500 each month. All other grant beneficiaries will receive an extra R250 per month for the next six months.
“In addition, a special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant of R350 a month for the next six months will be paid to individuals who are currently unemployed and do not receive any other form of a social grant or UIF payment. The Department of Social Development will issue the requirements needed to access and apply for this funding.”
Increasing the child grant was proposed as the fastest and most efficient way for the government to assist most families who were likely to be struggling with hunger during the lockdown.
The interventions proposed by Ramaphosa also correspond with a proposal made by Ihsaan Bassier from the South African Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town. Bassier proposed that to put money in most people’s pockets the government would have to spread it over a few grants. Apart from an increased child grant he also proposed a special Covid-19 grant.
An increase in the child grant was also proposed by the C19 People’s Coalition, among many other organisations. In a statement issued last week, the coalition’s Ruth Hall from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (Plaas) proposed an increase of R500 in the child support grant as the fastest way to address raging hunger and food insecurity in communities.
“Top up the Child Support Grant by R500 for six months, and do it immediately, in time for payout in the first week of May. This is the most far-reaching, pro-poor and pro-women way to compensate for the massive loss of incomes.
“Government has received two letters from a broad platform of civil society organisations, community organisations and academic institutions. All the evidence is there. The government does have the money and can make R40-billion available over the coming six months. This will reach 13 million grantees.
“Despite having had all this information, and widespread consensus across society, the government has not yet made any announcement. We call on the Cabinet to immediately approve and announce this urgent measure. Immediate relief is now essential, which is why our primary recommendation to deal with the food crisis is to top up the Child Support Grant immediately,” the statement issued by the C-19 People’s Coalition read.
Ramaphosa said the government recognised that its food distribution capacity was not adequate to meet the huge need that has arisen since the start of the epidemic.
“The South African Social Security Agency – Sassa – will within days implement a technology-based solution to roll out food assistance at scale through vouchers and cash transfers to ensure that help reaches those who need it faster and more efficiently. In addition, to fill the immediate need, the Department of Social Development has partnered with the Solidarity Fund, NGOs and community-based organisations to distribute 250,000 food parcels across the country over the next two weeks,” he said.
Ramaphosa added that he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of people abusing the emergency food relief system for corrupt ends.
“We will not hesitate to ensure that those involved in such activities face the full might of the law.”
Ayanda Kota from the Unemployed People’s Movement said one had to ask who can live on R350 provided for by the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant. “R350 for what? A month?” he asked, “Who can live on that?”
He said they were very happy with the promised increase in the child support grant.
Anna-Louise Olivier, director of the child protection organisation Uviwe, said she hoped that this would be the start of designing a better long-term food security system for South Africans.
“Social relief will be better if it is coordinated by the South African Social Security Agency and the Solidarity Fund. We saw in the past few days that handing out food parcels created a lot of emotion. Those who shouted the loudest got the most. It was also almost impossible to implement personal distancing where crowds gathered to collect food parcels.
“I am hoping with the gradual relaxation of lockdown that food schemes will be coupled with long-term development programs. Food parcels create dependency. I think this might well be a chance for us to build something better with our communities,” she said. DM/MC
Maverick Citizen will continue to unpack responses and analysis based on the social measures announced.
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