Maverick Citizen: Op-Ed
Covid-19: Women are bearing more costs and receiving fewer benefits
Even though women have suffered two thirds of the job losses since February, men have received two thirds of Covid-19 grants (65%).
On 15 July we released the results of the largest non-medical Covid-19 research project in South Africa: the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM). It shows that three million jobs were lost during the first stage of the lockdown, and of those, two million (66%) were accounted for by women, and in particular poor women. This is a very concerning finding since there are large knock-on effects of this income loss for women and for the children who live in their households, especially when the woman is the sole breadwinner.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that initial job losses were so large and concentrated among women, we see unprecedented levels of household vulnerability, with half of all respondents (47%) saying that their household ran out of money to buy food in April and one in five (22%) reporting that someone in their household went hungry in the last seven days. Child hunger has at least doubled since 2018 with one in seven (15%) reporting that a child went hungry in the last week because there was no money for food.
What makes these results all the more devastating is that women are not receiving the new R350 Covid-19 grant at the same rate as men.
In a presentation to Nedlac on 30 June, Sassa reports that of the 3.25 million Covid-19 grants paid out up until the end of June, only 1.15 million were paid out to women. Put differently, two thirds of Covid-19 grants (65%) were paid to men even though women suffered two thirds of the job losses.
One potential reason is that people who receive other grants are ineligible for the new Covid-19 grant. For example, many women receive the Child Support Grant which has now been topped up by R500 per caregiver (note not per child). Yet, this grant is primarily for the benefit of the child rather than the caregiver. The implication is that women who have lost their jobs are being disadvantaged because they have children.
This policy response assumes that those who receive the CSG were not personally dependent on their employment or earnings to make ends meet. It is a mistake to think that those who receive grants are somehow “immune” from job losses since they already have a grant.
Gabrielle Wills’ analysis of the General Household Survey of 2018 shows that 63% of grant-receiving households report receiving some income from employment or business, and only 42% said that grants were their “main source of income”. In other words, even grant recipients depend heavily on earnings from employment. And this is not surprising, since the CSG is not sufficient to lift a child above the poverty line, let alone children and their caregiver.
Because the top-up paid for the CSG is constant, regardless of the number of children the caregiver is responsible for, the extra support is often spread very thin, and in a sense is regressive – the more children you have the less there is to go around.
Let’s take the example of a mother living with two children who has lost her job and has no other income support. Her household of three would have to live on R1,380 a month (i.e. the R440 CSG per child plus the R500 top-up). This amounts to R460 per person, which is below StatsSA’s “food poverty line” of R578 a month.
And, of course, this minimum subsistence amount does not take into account the cost of rent, fuel, electricity, clothing and other essentials. Add to this rising food prices during the lockdown, and the loss of the one meal a day through the school-feeding scheme that 9 million children relied on to meet their minimum caloric needs, and it is easy to see how quickly families can fall into destitution.
The Covid-19 grant was designed to protect those who have suffered job loss and the income they were relying on. These grants should be provided regardless of whether a CSG is being received on behalf of a child.
Why so many women are not receiving the Covid-19 grant is not clear at the moment, and Sassa should investigate this urgently. The exclusionary criterion which prevents concurrent grant-holding is likely to be a key factor. It may also dissuade women from applying in the first place. What is clear is that half as many women as men are receiving these grants and yet twice as many have lost their jobs.
This is deeply troubling and requires immediate attention. DM/MC
Nic Spaull is a Senior Researcher at RESEP in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University; Daniela Casale is an associate professor in the School of Economics & Finance at Wits University; Dorrit Posel is Helen Suzman chair and a distinguished professor in the School of Economics & Finance at Wits University. They are also part of the Nids-Cram consortium of researchers, visit http://www.cramsurvey.org
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