The Department of Social Development (DSD) is amending the Regulations relating to the Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant in terms of the Social Assistance Act.
The amendments are limited to changing the expiry date of the grant, from March 2023 to March 2024. Aside from that, they leave all aspects of the Regulations unchanged, including the value of the grant, which remains woefully inadequate at R350 per month.
In light of the repeated threats to the continuation of the SRD grant since 2021, we welcome its extension. However, we are deeply concerned that the extension is limited to twelve months.
This, alongside the fact that there is no allocation to fund the grant after March 2024 in the tabled 2023/24 National Budget, signals a possible intention to withdraw the grant in a year’s time.
On Tuesday 7 March, the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) and the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI) submitted joint comments to DSD on the draft amendment. The submission details key concerns relating to Government handling of this critically important grant, and the failure of the Regulations to address systemic issues which civil society has repeatedly raised over the past year.
In the context of a skyrocketing cost of living for the poorest households (with food inflation at 13.4% in January 2023), the removal of the SRD grant will worsen already alarming levels of food insecurity; as will the failure to increase its value which has been massively eroded by inflation since 2020.
The SRD grant must be retained indefinitely, and its value raised to at least account for inflation since 2020, until it can be replaced by a more extensive and comprehensive system of basic income support for people of working age, at the value of at least the Food Poverty Line and increasing over time to the Upper-Bound Poverty Line.
The Constitution requires the government to progressively realise social assistance for those who need it, and cutting funding for and removing the SRD grant would be a retrogression of rights provided for in the Constitution.
In addition, we are dismayed that the amendment process has failed to address the myriad aspects of unfairness which have resulted in millions of poor people being excluded from the SRD grant since the current Regulations were introduced.
At its height (in March 2022), 10.9 million people relied on the SRD grant to survive. Following the introduction of the Regulations in April 2022 that number plummeted, and as at February 2023 it remains about three million below March 2022 levels. This is due to exclusionary aspects of the Regulations including a punitively low means-test (of R350, later raised to R624), alongside flawed and unjust systems of application, verification, payment and appeals.
Our submission discusses these flaws and injustices at length, and puts forward a series of recommendations for the improvement of the Regulations and administration of the SRD grant.
National Treasury’s claim that there are no resources to fund the grant is patently false, as government reported a R94 billion revenue overrun in the recent Budget. Rather than using this fiscal space to address our crisis of hunger, Treasury is choosing to prioritise reducing the country’s debt more aggressively than is necessary.
The grant must be retained, extended and improved, and must form the basis of a basic income grant which will assist in tackling South Africa’s triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality.