Crucial gaps in SA’s social protection system exposed by Covid-19

08 September 2020 - 18:40
Covid-19 has exposed cracks in the country's social protection system. File photo.
Covid-19 has exposed cracks in the country's social protection system. File photo.
Image: JAMES OATWAY

Covid-19 has exposed crucial gaps in SA’s social protection system, a panel of experts said on Tuesday.

This was explored during a webinar which asked how SA’s social protection system could “build back better” after the lockdown restrictions are lifted. This would ensure that all citizens and residents realised their constitutional right to appropriate and adequate social security, not just during national disasters but all of the time.

A set of programmes like the R350 special Covid-19 social relief of distress were introduced under the emergency intervention.

Alex van den Heever, adjunct professor at the Wits School of Governance, said the architecture of the social grant system needed to be revised.

“We are all missing the wider discussion on how our system should look like. We have to think long-term. We cannot continue with this framework,” he said.

“We should maintain the programmes we have introduced. SA is going to bounce back. These programmes have a positive effect on the economic growth, which will have a positive effect on tax returns.”

He said an improved and integrated system of support would improve access.

“We have a very inflexible system of UIF support and an incredibly lazy department of labour. Sassa is not organised to do anything other than allocate grants.

“It’s ridiculous that the grant is allocated to the child and not the caregiver. The architecture of the social grant system needs to be revised, rather than the ad hoc additional grant.”

As the end of the six-month emergency relief measures approaches, the question of “what next” was becoming increasingly urgent. The panel discussed how effective the expansion of social grants had been, coupled with innovative interventions like the temporary employee/employer relief scheme (Ters) in protecting vulnerable individuals and households affected by the lockdown.

Going forward, was a universal Basic Income Grant (BIG) or Basic Income Support (BIS) for 18- to 59-year-olds a realistic possibility? This was one of the key talking points.

Lynette Maart, national director of the Black Sash, said while it was appreciated that the government topped up most social grants during the emergency period, the provisions needed to be made permanent because the grants were low.

“The interventions should be a permanent measure and be added as they are inadequate and don’t cover basic needs,” she said.

The Covid-19 social relief of distress grant was rolled out for a six-month period, from May. Initially it was only open to South African citizens, refugees and permanent residents.

On June 18 , following litigation by the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town and law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, a court order was issued. This enabled those with asylum seeker or special permit status in South Africa to access the Covid-19 social relief of distress grant - subject to certain criteria.

“We are calling for an inclusion of caregivers in child grants. We also ask the government to continue the provision of asylum and refugee seekers going forward. We must continue to keep the foothold,” said Maart.  

She was of the view that the age group between 18 and 59 should also be considered for government grant support.

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