Covid-19 Relief Grant falls short of promised reprieve
For immediate release
19 May 2020
Covid-19 Relief Grant falls short of promised reprieve
The Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant amounting to R350 has been rolled out as an important mechanism to address immediate hunger and impoverishment which has worsened under the lockdown. This new grant was promised to all unemployed South Africans without income between the ages of 18 and 59 years. While the speed of the rollout has been recognized, it currently falls far short of the relief that was promised.
We demand the urgent ramping up of assistance to all potential applicants, including opening SASSA offices to full capacity, providing safe alternative distribution of grants for applicants with no bank account, and improved communication of all grant-related information.
After consulting with many organisations and individuals within the C-19 People’s Coalition, the following preliminary issues urgently need to be addressed. Similar concerns have been raised elsewhere, such as Black Sash’s letter to the president signed by 30 organizations.
1. Inadequacy of R350
Millions more have become unemployed over the lockdown (according to National Treasury’s own projections) and have no other income to rely on. While the amount of R350 may act as a significant contributor to the fight against hunger, particularly for those who had already been without sources of income prior to the coronavirus outbreak, it is nonetheless below the food poverty line, meaning that it will not even meet the nutritional requirements of a single person. Children in particular are suffering, given that free school meals are less available; and the R500 Caregiver Grant is too small for families with more than one child, since it is given per caregiver and not per child, and therefore has to be divided across the whole family. As advisory research shows, a larger SRD grant can effectively reduce hunger and poverty for all affected.
We demand a much larger grant that will at least meet people’s basic needs.
2. Opening SASSA Offices to at Least Full Capacity
There needs to be more assistance in the application process. It is indefensible that SASSA offices are operating at a third of capacity: it provides an essential service. A capacity of at least the pre-lockdown level is required since there are now millions more social grant applications and recipients eligible for the COVID grant.
We have witnessed the inefficiency of the current system as well as the challenges of being dependent solely on a digital application process. Many have struggled to use these application options, i.e. SMS, WhatsApp and email, due to issues with not having a device for example a cellphone, data, network connectivity or following the guidelines. While remote applications options are clearly faster and safer, they must be complemented by accessible and familiar alternative application channels.
We demand the full and reinforced opening of SASSA offices so that applicants are assisted and not turned away after hours in line. Moreover, the government should deploy workers throughout the country, particularly in under-resourced and rural areas, to assist applicants at temporary stations. This would have the extra benefit of providing productive employment at a time when this is needed more than ever.
3. Catering to Those Without a Bank Account
The current alternative provided by SASSA to a bank account is a cash transfer via a cellphone. Distance, cost and health risks are barriers to those eligible for the grant to open a bank account at this time. Applicants without access to a suitable cellphone cannot be forced to rely on others, which would make them vulnerable to fraud.
We demand expedited alternatives to bank account payment of the SRD grant. SASSA has mentioned the possibility of paying by voucher or money transfer. We are also aware of the South African Post Office (SAPO) Cashless ATMs currently being rolled out, and require more information on the experiences of grant recipients using these machines. Whatever system is chosen by SASSA (including distribution of SASSA cards to new beneficiaries), it must allow fractional or cash-convertible payment to all informal traders as well as a wide variety of large formal retailers.
4. Clear, Timely and Up-to-date Communication
Poor communication has caused widespread confusion and panic. Millions of people are relying on this grant to survive under a lockdown which cuts off alternative livelihoods. There are several examples of crucial aspects of the process that remain unclear:
- While the requirement to submit documentation (ID copy, proof of address, etc.) was dropped it has not been adequately communicated – some are still being asked to provide it.
- Alternative channels for money transfer for the unbanked were promised, but not explained.
- It remains unclear how claimants’ data are going to be stored, used, and most importantly protected.
- While we understand the rollout of this grant is new, there needs to be a serious commitment of resources to communication beyond media statements. Applicants need to hear back as to whether they are approved for the grant.
As an indicator of the poor communication around the grant, payments were meant to be made on Friday the 15th of May: we have yet to hear how many received these payments. Transparency and accountability are especially important given renewed controversy regarding links between SASSA and Net-1, the disgraced former distributor of grants.
We demand that a communication strategy is put in place to reach every person in South Africa. We have suggested mass distribution through SMS as well as local information stations. Clear and highly visible explanations and updates about the SRD grant should appear on the official data-free site, https://sacoronavirus.co.za/. SASSA’s website and the subsite containing the SRD grant application should also be made data free on all cell phone networks. Importantly, poor communication should not penalise those who apply late, and in particular payments should be made retrospectively for the full 6 month period promised.
5. Exclusion criteria of grant
The requirement published on the government grant webpage and added after the president’s announcement that applicants “do not receive any other source of income” will exclude many who are most in need of the grant. We highlight informal workers, who have been excluded from the TERS/UIF programme but have lost an enormous amount of income due to the lockdown.
We note the systematic exclusion of non-nationals from relief efforts including the SRD grant. Many people in this group have no form of income as a result of the lockdown, as they often rely on the informal economy. The exclusion of this group from the SRD grant extends their vulnerability even more.The SRD grant is premised on providing support to those in particular ‘distress’.
We demand these exclusion criteria are dropped, such that the formulation and implementation of the grant ensures it is accessible to all who live in South Africa.
At least one in four adults under 60 years old will be eligible for this grant. It is the first time many will be included in state systems of money transfer. The novelty of this grant, and the urgency of the need for the grant, require a large commitment of resources to its rollout.
Although SASSA claims over 3 million applications have been received, many of these will be rejected as duplicates or ineligible; it is also far below what survey evidence suggests should be at least 8 million eligible applicants, up to 15 million people.
We demand alternative application mechanisms that are accessible to applicants, alternative distribution of cash that does not rely on bank accounts, and proper communication. We emphasise that excluding eligible applicants is not a money saving technique, as perhaps some in government see it, but a failure of a promise to help basic survival in this time of crisis.
For more information, please contact: Ihsaan Bassier on 071 280 0861
C19 People’s Coalition Cash Transfers Working Group (contact: Ihsaan Bassier)
The West Coast Food Sovereignty and Solidarity Forum (contact: Davine Cloete)
South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (contact: Myrtle Witbooi)
Assembly of Unemployed (contact: Motsi Khokhoma)
Westside Park Community Crisis Committee (contact: Bongani ka Mthembu)
Black Sash (contact: Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker and Lynette Maart)
Organizing for Work (contact: Ayal Belling)