Sunday Times

Basic Income Grant

Internatio­nal treaty, our national jobs crisis and our duty oblige the government to act on this, says the Black Sash

- By LYNETTE MAART Maart is Black Sash national director

Black Sash advocates for a R1,227 monthly poverty lifeline

● The Black Sash has campaigned for years for the implementa­tion of income support for those aged 18 to 59 with no or little income. The Covid-19 social relief of distress (SRD) and the caregiver grants are critical steps towards the implementa­tion of universal basic income support, where all who live in SA receive an income from the government that is high enough to ensure a dignified life.

Income support is feasible and affordable and will contribute to economic growth. It is not a handout but a share of the collective wealth of SA. Income support will also ensure that many households have improved health and education, which will have a long-term impact on poverty reduction. Social developmen­t minister Lindiwe Zulu’s recent support for a basic income is encouragin­g.

The expansion of social grants is one of the greatest post-1994 redistribu­tive achievemen­ts in SA. Social grants provide financial support to over 18-million of the most vulnerable: the elderly, children and people with disabiliti­es.

But the social security system has some serious coverage gaps. Although section 27 of our constituti­on makes provision for social security, “including appropriat­e social assistance if they are unable to support themselves”, SA still does not have a social assistance or income support programme for adults aged 18 to 59 with no or little income.

The government in 2015 also ratified the Internatio­nal Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights, a UN treaty that protects a wide range of human rights. By October this year, the South African government has an obligation under internatio­nal law to “ensure that those between the ages of 18 and 59 with little or no income have access to social assistance”. Other key recommenda­tions include “consider the possibilit­y of introducin­g a universal basic income grant” and “raise the levels of government social assistance benefits to a level that ensures an adequate standard of living for recipients and their families”.

What are we waiting for?

Those who are against a basic income usually advance two arguments: that we can’t afford it, and that if unemployed people receive income support they will stop looking for work.

In fact, a growing body of research from pilot studies globally shows that guaranteei­ng a minimum income is a key means to enable people to engage in economic activity, including job seeking, and that a basic income is able to reduce both poverty and inequality.

But in August 2020, as the number of Covidinfec­ted people continues to soar and desperate hunger in many parts of SA is widely reported, advising the hungry to look for a job is cruel as well as unrealisti­c.

The most recent Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that before the pandemic, in the first quarter of 2020, the number of unemployed people increased to about 10 million (42%) based on the expanded definition. Even worse, the percentage of young people (SA’s future) aged between 15 and 34 who were not in employment, education or training increased from 40.7% to 41.7% in this period.

SA has a structural unemployme­nt problem and the truth is that the millions of unemployed people will continue their struggle to find work beyond the pandemic. What horrors will the labour survey of the second quarter of 2020 reveal? Can we afford not to introduce basic income support?

The reasons for SA’s inability to generate jobs over the past two decades are many faceted and widely debated. As President Cyril Ramaphosa has repeatedly stated, the outpouring of solidarity towards those with no resources who are starving has been admirable. However, this cannot substitute for state action backed by the fiscus. We are facing a national crisis.

What has the government done so far? In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the department of social developmen­t and the South African Social Security Agency planned to distribute 250,000 food parcels through the social relief of distress programme. As the extent of the national humanitari­an crisis became evident, this number was increased to a million food parcels. Though better than nothing, the programme is inadequate and has been beset by the usual suspects — the government’s lack of capacity, and mismanagem­ent. The food parcel tender and its distributi­on network are now mired in allegation­s of corruption.

In April, the government introduced the Covid-19 SRD grant. This grant of R350 per month, for six months ending in October, targets individual­s aged 18 to 59 with no income. A caregiver grant valued at R500 monthly for five months was also initiated. Though these new grants are critical steps towards a universal basic income grant, R350 and R500 respective­ly per month is below the value of the food parcel and is highly insufficie­nt to make a difference to hunger.

These amounts are inadequate to cover food, energy sources and transport, as well as the additional cost of complying with hygiene protocols during the pandemic. The Black Sash, through our wide partner network, has been involved in the effort to assist people to apply for the Covid-19 SRD grant. The digital applicatio­n platforms continue to be inaccessib­le for many eligible applicants. Three months in, many have still not received this grant.

The Black Sash recommends a phased-in approach to basic income support. Zulu has identified two age groups most critically in need that should be prioritise­d: the 18- to 24-year-olds (the child support grant ends when a child turns 18), and those between 50 and 59 years.

Both the Covid-19 SRD and the caregiver grants should be converted into permanent basic income support. We estimate that between 10-million and 15-million people will need this grant. We look forward to the minister presenting an implementa­tion plan with a budget.

Reality check: according to figures calculated by the Pietermari­tzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group, the cost of the monthly basket of staple foods has increased by 6% to R3,413.14 for the average household. The value of the basic income support grant, then, should be increased to at least the upper-bound poverty line, which is currently R1,227 per month.

How do we fund basic income support? Suggestion­s from economists range from the reprioriti­sation of government expenditur­e to raising tax revenues and eliminatin­g illicit financial flows and fiscal drag.

Together with our community partners we have developed over many years a clear-eyed view of the poverty and desperatio­n in SA, even before the pandemic. In this unpreceden­ted global emergency, the Black Sash insists that basic income support for those aged 18 to 59 be introduced now!

 ?? Picture: Alon Skuy ?? A waste picker in Kliptown, Soweto. Hunger, poverty and a lack of dignity will be eased somewhat by a realistic basic income grant for people aged 18 to 59, says the writer.
Picture: Alon Skuy A waste picker in Kliptown, Soweto. Hunger, poverty and a lack of dignity will be eased somewhat by a realistic basic income grant for people aged 18 to 59, says the writer.

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