Costs of basic necessities going up and up

Smangele Jansen, a social relief of distress, 'Covid' grant recipient shopping for her staple foods. Archive photo by Ramatamo Sehoai

The author argues that government is failing to respond to the lived reality of communities by increasing the amount of the ‘Covid’ grant given to the poorest and making it more accessible.

Most people in South Africa are struggling to survive in a context of high unemployment and skyrocketing prices for basic needs such as food, essential products, electricity and transport. Almost half of the population in South Africa is unemployed while government makes empty promises of job creation.

Key data from the March 2023 Household Affordability Index produced by Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group shows that the average cost of a household food basket is R4,966.20 which has  increased by R37.87 (0.8%), from R4,928.34 in February to March 2023. In the past year, the average cost of the food basket increased by R516.12 (11.6%), from R4,450.09 in March 2022. It is important to note that the cost of basic products that are essential for good health and hygiene increased disproportionately more, at 21.4% year-on-year.

Against this backdrop, the recent regulations published under the Social Assistance Act to govern the social relief of distress grant for those who are unemployed in South Africa does little to provide a buffer against hunger and starvation. The grant itself is admission by the government of the social distress poor communities are in and of the urgency for it to respond but it has failed to increase the amount of the grant to make it livable, and has not remedied problems to access the grants.

The provisions must ensure that all who are unemployed in South Africa receive the grant, rather than provide for strict eligibility criteria which are exclusionary, to ensure that the number of people who qualify for the grant remain within the budget allocation.

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One of the demands of the unemployed groups that marched to parliament earlier this year is a universal income grant of R1,500. Photo by Asive Mabula

The amount of the ‘Covid’ grant, R350, is way below the food poverty line of R663 and has remained the same since its inception in 2020 despite the spiralling cost of living. Many problems hinder the unemployed from receiving the grant:

  • The online application portal is only available in English,
  • the government databases are outdated and use the banking systems for verification,
  • optional questionnaires seeking personal information which is irrelevant for the grant application,
  • an income threshold of R624 to determine eligibility,
  • technical glitches,
  • payment problems, and
  • a flawed and delayed review and appeal process.

Since the grant was introduced in 2020, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine have adversely impacted the world where the most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of the high cost of living, spurred by an increase in the interest rate and electricity price hikes in South Africa. How can the unemployed survive when there are no jobs? The people are desperate.

Hoodah Abrahams-Fayker is national advocacy officer at Black Sash

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