As the country anxiously awaits the details to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s economic recovery plan for South Africa, civil society unions have called for governments grants to be increased and extended.
It comes amid bleak predictions for the country’s economy, which has been hard hit by restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Speaking to VOC’s Breakfast Beat on Wednesday, Economics PhD candidate and Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit Associate Ihsaan Bassier explained that, with grants coming to a halt at the end of October, the effects will be devastating for the poor.
In April, Ramaphosa announced several measures aimed at providing financial aid to the country’s poorest. Among these were increases to pension and child grants, the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Covid-19 Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).
Tens of thousands of jobs were lost over the past few months, placing around 2-3 million people below the poverty line. Without the grants, Bassier estimates this figure will increase to 5 million. Civil society organisations say the SRD and caregiver grants have particularly played an enormous role in preventing even more poverty, but the crisis is far from over.
“When grants were first extended, there was this thinking that the lockdown would only last for a few months. The latest data says 2.5 million jobs have been lost over the Covid-19 period to date,” said Bassier.
Bassier noted that South Africa has had a consistently high unemployment rate, “where around 35% of the workforce cannot secure a job.”
“Unemployment is not something that is a choice. There is structural unemployment that’s a legacy from apartheid, where even though people want and are looking for work, (they don’t get it). We have one of the highest unemployment rates in the world,” he said.
He echoed the call of around 100 civil society organisations, including COSATU and SAFTU, who have demanded that the government extend the period of socio-economic relief to the poor, at least until the end of the financial year. Considering the extent of joblessness, the organisations have also called for the total to be raised to at least the poverty line which is R580.
Bassier further said that the SRD, in particular, has been slow in implementation and had only begun reaching an estimated 5.7 million adults from July 2020.
Another concern raised by unions was to make the grants more accessible to those looking for employment. He said while the child grant caters to children and pension caters to the elderly, “there’s never been a social net for the unemployed between the ages of 16-60”.
He added that due to the effects of the pandemic, governments across the globe have expanded social grants.
“Other countries realised that people need another option. This is the worst time to cut back on relief. There’s some ideological positions resistance against grants, some people think it creates this kind of dependency or laziness, this is the worst kind of elitism and disconnect from what grants really do. Grants are a simple way to avoid starving and facilitate or empower people to look for work.”
President Ramaphosa is meanwhile expected to present the economic recovery plan to Parliament on Thursday.