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South Africans drowning in rising cost of living — urgent state intervention is needed

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Bridget Masango is the DA Shadow Minister of Social Development.

What the statistics have been telling us for a number of years now is that South Africa’s poorest cannot survive without government assistance, but that assistance, solely in the form of social grants, barely changes their circumstances — they survive but they do not thrive.

The following statistics concerning poverty and the cost of living crisis have been widely reported:

  • By next year, nearly half of South Africans will go to bed hungry;
  • More than a thousand children died of malnutrition in 2022;
  • Underlying malnutrition can be linked to one in every three child deaths;
  • More than 27% of children under five are stunted due to malnutrition, which can cause irreversible physical and cognitive damage. There has been no decrease in the percentage of children affected since 2019;
  • Nearly 18.2 million people in South Africa are living in extreme poverty, with over 162,000 more people being pushed into poverty since 2022,
  • More than 13 million children are reliant on child support grants of R510, R250 less than the food poverty line of R760;
  • Four million pensioners receive an old age grant of R2,090;
  • 7.9 million people are unemployed and 41.1% of unemployed people are available to work but discouraged or have reasons for not seeking jobs; and
  • 3.4 million (33%) million young people aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education, or training (Neet).

What the statistics have been telling us for a number of years now is that South Africa’s poorest cannot survive without government assistance, but that assistance solely in the form of social grants barely changes their circumstances — they survive but they do not thrive.

At the very least the child support grant has to be increased to match the food poverty line, extended to cover pregnant mothers in order to support child nutrition goals, and extended to learners until they complete their National Senior Certificate.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Grant beneficiaries tell of struggles to get payouts from Sassa

Partnership with private doctors must be considered to alleviate the strain of medical assessments for disability grant applicants and ensuring faster approval and assistance.

The social relief of distress (SRD) grant of R350 should be converted into a job-seekers grant, with recipients providing evidence of their efforts to seek employment, and the grant should be tied to economic growth and sufficient tax revenue to fund it.

According to the Household Affordability Index, workers at the lower end of the income spectrum are struggling to afford their core household expenses.

The index’s findings echo the DA’s engagements with grant recipients. DA public representatives — from councillors to members of Parliament — are inundated with poor and vulnerable people at their wits’ end with trying to survive each day. Not only are they often struggling for access to their grants each month, but they struggle to find work, pay for transport, and afford hidden costs that affect their dignity and health.

Social grants are a necessary intervention but cannot be the only laurels that government rests on. The poor and vulnerable in South Africa need much more extensive intervention to ensure a healthy and dignified population that will be able to help build the economy.

As a matter of urgency, government needs to expand the zero-rated food basket to include items such as bone-in chicken, beef, tinned beans, wheat flour and baby food to ensure that essential foods do not become increasingly unaffordable, compromising healthy nutritional intake.

As an extension, the red tape surrounding informal trade, especially of core foods, should be cut. Ensuring that informal traders can run their businesses in areas that comply with health and safety standards and supporting small businesses and local economies in such a way, will ensure localised growth that will benefit the whole community.

Communities must utilise food hubs and be empowered to plant and maintain food gardens to enhance household food security and well-being, as well as developing sources of income. Property ownership is an important means of creating wealth and the backlog in title deed provision must be eradicated urgently. Under-utilised state-owned land must be developed for land reform projects, including housing and farming.

Furthermore, while it is important to ensure that the economy is grown to such an extent that employment becomes a certainty and not a mere far-off dream for the majority of South Africans, we need to invest in youth development to ensure that future generations have the necessary skills and the enabling environment to be gainfully employed.

NSFAS needs to be reformed to address the “missing middle” students, many of whom are currently locked out of higher education opportunities.

Too many South Africans are barely able to survive each day, never mind plan for their future. They’re trapped in poverty and hopelessness by an economy on the verge of collapsing, without even the most basic of services being delivered.

We must realise that we as a society cannot thrive while the most vulnerable among us suffer. DM

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