Shaeera Kalla | 28 June 2020
Covid-19 devastation in South Africa is more acute because we remain one of the most unequal societies
Media Statement: Adjusted Budget Confirms Government’s Failure to Implement the New Social Grant
26 June 2020
The South African government has reneged on its promise to assist those who have been further pushed into hunger and destitution due to the lockdown. The state’s announcement that they would provide a caregiver grant and create a new Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant of R350 provided some relief. However, our worst fears around failure to implement have been realised. President Ramaphosa’s stimulus package promised R50 billion for grants but according to the Adjusted Budget, announced on Wednesday 24 June 2020, it has been decreased to R41 billion. To put this into context: the adjusted amount is only R26 billion more than what the state would already spend on grants. In a once-in-a-lifetime humanitarian crisis, a time when the whole world has been encouraged to commit to social relief efforts, these cuts prove the state’s failure to coordinate basic and urgent provisions to the most marginalised.
The budget indicates no movement towards inclusive growth or progressive taxation needed to reduce our high levels of inequality and what raises alarm bells is that health, the primary concern in a pandemic, has only R2.9 billion of net additional funding for the entire health sector. This is less than half of the new funding allocated to the SANDF and SAPS, while police brutality has been put on the spotlight globally through the #BlackLivesMatter movement. With increased unrest expected, as people struggle to survive, this choice to repress rather than to serve is extremely calculated. Furthermore, the budget was centred on debt reduction, and while we can acknowledge that our debt to GDP ratio is far too high, this moment requires increased spending on life and livelihood saving measures. It is callous – at the least – to obsess about balancing budgets when people are starving to death. There is an increase in unemployment and in the number of people who would qualify for the grant and yet the government has now cut the budget allocation by R9 billion: how will this see us through the promised 6-month timeframe? The cuts have been justified by a ‘low Covid-19 SRD grant uptake’, implying that there is less of a need than the government initially anticipated. This is clearly not the case, the slow uptake has been engineered as such, it is a result of: application criteria that exclude some of the most precarious, poor communication, reliance on technologies to which many do not have access, exclusionary verification conditions, and slow payment systems on the part of SASSA. It is prudent to note that 90% of those who were promised the grant have instead had no income for a second month running.
1. We demand clear communication on the state of relief measures in general and in particular on the Covid-19 SRD grant
Celebrating this low take-up of grants as fiscal savings ignores the structural barriers to accessing the grant – exacerbated by the conditionalities for application. According to their latest report, SASSA has only accepted 3.2 million applicants, out of at least 10 million (but up to 15 million) eligible. Worse, it has only paid out a third of those accepted. Some who applied in April have still not received any feedback on the status of their applications. Even when applications are approved, sometimes the applicant does not receive a verification code. Furthermore, details around back-pay remain unclear: will Sassa ensure that all those eligible and verified will receive the full six months worth of grant payments? A new appeals process has been created but this process is ironically still an online one, this presents serious limitations in our context. Millions have been relying on (the promise of) this grant for survival and with such high numbers of rejection, if one were to appeal and get the grant, would one be eligible for back pay? These questions remain unanswered as communication with applicants has been dismally poor.
2. We demand the dropping of unethical exclusion criteria
To further exclude people, SASSA has stated that if they detect a recipient is receiving money into their bank account, regardless of the context – perhaps someone has taken out a loan or is receiving a small donation from a family member, the said recipient will no longer receive the grant. Given that the R350 is an inadequate amount on its own, excluding recipients on these petty grounds cannot be justified. The exclusion of caregivers and migrants from the grant has long been questioned. The Pretoria High Court has ordered that the Covid-19 SRD grant be extended to asylum seekers as well as special permit holders. Sadly, this progress means little when we look at the sheer failure of SASSA to implement the payment of these grants and the lack of funds allocated to meet the now increased demands.
3. We demand the government addresses the massive shortfall in funding to #PayTheGrant
It is unacceptable that the promised R17 billion for the Covid SRD grant is not being distributed when we know that people are suffering and unemployment has increased to 30%. SASSA claims that they only have R3.5 billion for the Covid-19 SRD grant payments, only 20% of what was initially promised by Cyril Ramaphosa. This means that even when people meet all the criteria, there is still a massive shortfall in the number of people SASSA can pay.
4. We demand the back payment of all those who applied for the COVID 19 SRD grant, regardless of when the application was made
There are discrepancies around the decisions SASSA has taken in its disbursement process, which are highlighted in the arbitrariness of back payments. According to SASSA, those who applied in April, when the grant was made available, were expected to receive back pay, which they have to date not received. Given that the initial communication of the grant’s existence was poor, this criteria for back payments is extremely dubious. Despite when the application was made, if someone can prove that they are eligible for the grant, they should receive back pay.
The neoliberal economic thinking that has failed the majority of people for the past two decades cannot dictate our reaction to this global crisis, unless we are happy passing through a narrow gate to hell. Access to this special grant has been so stringently individualised that we have lost sight of what its purpose is, the difference between life and death for the majority. Apartheid was a gendered project and black women are still the most excluded economic group, having to fight the crisis of inequality on the one hand and Gender Based Violence and Femicide on the other. These grants are a lifeline on many levels and the lack of urgency by SASSA, the Department of Social Development, and National Treasury to adequately verify, implement and get these grants to where they are needed is nothing short of criminal.
Towards a Basic Income Guarantee for all
The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated most of the world. In South Africa this devastation is acute because we remain one of the most unequal societies. This imbalance is due in large part to the extreme inequality inherited from our colonial past that has never been addressed. While a few families hoard wealth comparable to the world’s richest, half of the country today remains under the poverty line, all black and with no opportunity of employment. The government has failed to deliver the promised relief through the SRD grant, under the guise of verification for those deserving. The myth of a ‘deserving poor’ must be dismantled. Nobody should have to prove that they deserve a basic income! No one is disposable to the whims of economic models that do not serve the people. While we push for the implementation of what was promised, we understand its inadequacy to address structural poverty and reaffirm our support for a Basic Income Guarantee for all!
Issued by Shaeera Kalla on behalf of the C-19 Peoples’ Coalition and its Economics Working Group, 26 June 2020