Millions of poor people still excluded from Social Relief of Distress grant, say activists
Universal Basic Income Coalition activists say that millions of poor people are still not receiving their Social Relief of Distress grants. The activists say their submissions and recommendations to the government have fallen on deaf ears.
In March, the Universal Basic Income Coalition, led by the Institute for Economic Justice and the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, made a submission to the Department of Social Development (DSD) on the regulations relating to the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant (SRD).
The submission highlighted the following points:
- The online platform is only available in English, creating difficulties for non-English speakers and those without internet access;
- Beneficiary numbers have been limited by imposing a low-income threshold of R624 (this was aligned with the 2021 food poverty line, but is no longer aligned with any measure of poverty);
- The inclusion of a questionnaire with unnecessarily invasive questions and an unacceptably broad definition of “income”;
- Reliance on flawed government databases to verify eligibility;
- The use of bank verification processes that create significant errors of exclusion;
- A tedious and unfair review and appeals process; and
- No provision for the extension of the grant beyond April 2024.
Following the submission, the coalition issued a statement decrying the DSD and SA Social Security Agency’s (Sassa’s) lack of responsiveness to its recommendations.
“The coalition has been calling for the monthly SRD grant amount to increase from R350 to at least the monthly Food Poverty Line of R663 (in 2022 rands) and to turn the SRD grant into a permanent Universal Basic Income Grant for people between the ages of 18 to 59, progressively improving to the value of the Upper Bound Poverty Line of R1,417 in 2022,” read the statement.
Read more in Daily Maverick: The Social Relief of Distress grant – where it began and why the state is still dithering on payments
Speaking to Daily Maverick, Dr Kelle Howson, a senior researcher at the Institute for Economic Justice, said: “We have not had a response to our submission, and none of our recommendations for improving the administration of the grant and expanded access has been implemented.”
Howson said that in May 2023 stats provided by Sassa showed that millions of people were still being excluded from the grant despite applying and qualifying.
“We have figures for May provided to us by Sassa. They show that more than 14.4 million people applied for the grant in May, and only 8.4 million (58%) were approved. Of those approved, only 7.1 million (84%) have been paid.
“While application numbers continue to recover to their March 2022 level (before the system was changed), approval numbers have been basically static since February 2023.”
A matter of survival
Black Sash advocacy manager Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker told Daily Maverick: “People rely on the SRD grant to survive, but the number of beneficiaries who receive the grant is now substantially lower because of the restrictive measures imposed by the provisions to ensure that the number of beneficiaries who qualify are limited to an arbitrary budget cap imposed by National Treasury.”
The Black Sash is also part of the Universal Basic Income Coalition and last year it instigated legal action against the government for the exclusionary regulations of the SRD grant.
“We are concerned that the SRD grant is not reaching all the unemployed who should be eligible to receive the grant because the provisions to qualify are exclusionary by default. The department and Sassa failed to duly consider the submissions made by Black Sash and other civil society partners where we appealed to the department to address the exclusionary provisions,” Abrahams-Fayker said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Distress but no social relief – Limpopo’s poor languish in misery after SRD grant cut off
Howson said that the current numbers of SRD grant beneficiaries do not reflect the actual level of need.
“If and when government introduces permanent basic income support (as they have signalled that policy work is ongoing on this), it is imperative that the drivers of unfair exclusion are addressed, and that the grant is set at at least the value of the food poverty line (R663) and available to all those who need it.
“R350 is worth much less in 2023 than it was in 2020, due to very high inflation. If the grant had kept up with CPI inflation since 2020 it would now be over R400. However, the picture is even worse when you consider that recipients spend the vast majority of their SRD grant monies on food, which has experienced inflation at a much higher rate (14% in the year to March 2023),” Howson said.
“If the grant had been adjusted for food inflation, it would now be R448. This shows that amidst a deepening crisis of hunger, the SRD grant has been subject to retrogression not only in beneficiary numbers, but in value. This is completely out of keeping with the government’s constitutional obligation to progressively provide social assistance to those who are unable to provide for themselves and their dependants.”
In a webinar last week discussing the politics of a universal basic income grant in South Africa, Neil Coleman, co-founder and senior policy specialist at the Institute for Economic Justice, made a presentation showing how the SRD grant could be used as a platform for a universal basic income grant.
He said it would be a good way to rapidly transfer resources to those who need them most and could be the stimulus needed for economic renewal and development in South Africa.
According to Coleman: “The battle for basic income support currently hinges on the future of the Social Relief of Distress grant as it is the only social assistance measure for able-bodied people of working age.”
He said advocates for social security, within and outside the government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, were pushing for the SRD grant to become a basic income support grant.
Abrahams-Fayker said they would consider litigation should the government continue being unresponsive to the plight of people who depend on the SRD grant to survive. However, litigation would be a last resort.
No comment had been received from Sassa spokesperson Paseka Letsatsi at the time of publishing. DM