RSA Government speaks on increasing the R350 unemployment grant

Civil organisations are calling on government to increase and extend the R350 unemployment grant until the end of the financial year as 20% to 40% of people who lost their jobs during the lockdown were forced into extreme poverty.

In a webinar yesterday, former public protector Thuli Madonsela, general secretary of the South African Federation of Trade Unions Zwelinzima Vavi and organisations such as C19 People’s Coalition, the Institute for Economic Justice and Black Sash endorsed the #PayTheGrant campaign, which aims to fight poverty in the country.

They called on government to increase the R350 social relief of distress grant and the caregiver grant to R585 per month until the end of the financial year, in March next year, until a comprehensive plan for guaranteed basic income was put in place.

Should the grants be withdrawn, they would leave an immense burden on the shoulders of women, who are often the primary caregivers, said Madonsela.

“If this grant is withdrawn now, in the middle of the impact of the lockdown, women and girls are going to pay the price,” said Madonsela.

“Firstly, from the point of view of carrying the burden of care but, secondly, when there is distress, violence increases and those who are vulnerable to that violence would be girls and women.

“That is improper, unconstitutional and a violation of social justice, and something we will live to regret.

“If there is injustice, there cannot be sustainable peace.”

Between 2.2 million and 2.5 million people lost their jobs during lockdown when economic activity was halted in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19, with 20% to 40% of them pushed into extreme poverty.

According to research by economics expert and PhD candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Ihsaan Bassier, social grants had pulled four to five million people out of poverty.

“How else do we reach the commitment from government to alleviate poverty if by not taking this necessary opportunity to extend the grant system and address poverty?” he asks.

“There has been a lot of talk on jobs and recovery and it will take time but, in the meantime, something should cushion it.

“These grants are to help with the Covid-19 [effects] which is far from over.”

Perceptions and opinions that those who lived off social grants were lazy and not seeking employment were an insult to the unemployed, said Daddy Mabe of Assembly of the Unemployed and Grant Payment. Mabe lost his job in 2001.

“Until three years ago, I was able to fend for myself,” he said. “It is a daily struggle. Sometimes it takes up to 48 hours to get R20.

“I have two children who are both unemployed. One is a graduate. But people who say those who get grants are lazy, that is an insult.”

Government was yesterday asked to increase and extend the duration of the grants. Should it decline, Madonsela said they would apply further pressure.

She suggested a relook at the expenditure on security for Cabinet members, which was too expensive for a country which was not the most dangerous in Africa.

“We know there is no pot of gold to cover this. It’s a question of shifting this money from somewhere else…”

-The Citizen

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