The government’s Covid-19 relief efforts are undermined by its decision to top up the child support grant per caregiver, and not per child.
The government’s apparent about-face on increasing the child support grant per child, to only increasing it per caregiver for five months as part of its Covid-19 relief package has caused outrage, with experts predicting a much lower level of poverty reduction than had initially been modelled.
As part of his R500 billion relief package, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the child grant would be increased by R300 in May, and R500 from June to October.
All other grants would be topped up by R250 per month for six months while a special Covid-19 grant of R350 will also be rolled out for six months for unemployed people who do not receive any other grants.
This was mostly in line with the modelling the Presidency had commissioned and received, which indicated topping up the child grant by R500 was the fastest, most efficient way to reach millions of households with informal workers who stood to lose most of their income during the lockdown.
But it has since emerged the R300 grant will only be topped up per child for May, while from June to October the R500 will only be per caregiver, not per child.
This means households with more than one child will not receive an increase in the grant per child, and will only receive an increase per caregiver from June to October. The grant is currently distributed per child, not per caregiver.
This was confirmed by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni at a National Treasury media briefing on Friday afternoon.
At the briefing, the deputy director-general for public finance at the Treasury, Dr Mampho Modise, said: “In May, the child support grant per beneficiary, which is the child, will increase by R300 and then going forward we will be allocating money to the recipient, which is the mother, in June, July, August, September and October, the recipient will received the R500, but in May the beneficiary, the child, will receive R300.”
A spokesperson for Sassa did not respond to requests for comment, while the spokesperson for the Social Development Lindiwe Zulu, Lumka Oliphant, said the minister would clarify the situation in her next briefing. It is not clear when that will be.
Sassa received a number of requests for clarity on social media, and explained the situation in a tweet on Thursday thus:
In May only, care-givers (the card holder) will receive a R300 increase for each child (recipient)to the R440 Child Support grant amount, which amounts to R740. From June until October, the care-giver will get the normal R440 amount for each child and a single R500 added to that.
— SASSA (@OfficialSASSA) April 23, 2020
The result was the poverty alleviation impact of topping up the child grant would be substantially reduced, activists and academics said.
(1/4) Contrary to what it seems everyone understood, govt is apparently NOT going to increase CSG for each child recipient. Instead, they’ll increase R500 per adult caregiver. This is a much smaller transfer to the poor – shown in graph below – and is not what SALDRU modeled pic.twitter.com/lGxgUmLwt8
— Josh Budlender (@joshbudlender) April 23, 2020
Ihsaan Bassier from the C19 People Coalition, a group of NGOs, trade unions and other structures advocating for a just response to Covid-19, said the distinction was a “clear about-face by the government”.
Bassier, who is also part of the team who modelled the child grant increase and recommended to the government it should be done per child, added the model now being proposed by the government took R80 from the pockets of the poorest households in South Africa – the difference between surviving and not surviving for many households.
He said Ramaphosa’s announcement was misleading, because he had made no distinction between the R300 and R500 grants, adding he could only speculate on why the government had gone this route, but it was possible that it was a cost-cutting measure.
But, added Bassier, the government would only save about R13 billion.
“That may seem like a lot of money, but R13 billion in a package in a R500 billion is not that much. But it is a massive amount for households.”
Bassier said the difference took away R80 per month on average from the country’s poorest households – “the difference between survival or not”.
The country currently distributes 18 million social grants per month, including 12.5 million child grants.
The South African Development and Research Unit at the University of Cape Town (UCT) provided modelling on the possibilities for increasing social grants to the Presidency towards the end of March.
On 1 April, in an article published in The Conversation, researchers from the unit wrote their research showed without urgent intervention, the extreme poverty rate among vulnerable households was likely to triple as a result of the lockdown.
They said this was because, until then, interventions put in place to mitigate the economic impact of the lockdown were for employed people through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). But those without UIF, mainly informal workers, would have no protection.
About 45% of South African workers were not eligible to claim from the fund, according to the unit.
The total cost to topping up the grant per child would cost about R6.2 billion per month, they calculated. The research also showed 80% of people, who were in informal worker, were in the poorest half of the population.
Throughout April, a serious lobbying effort took place to push the government to adopt the R500 per month per child top-up.
On 4 April, the Children’s Institute at UCT wrote to Ramaphosa requesting the child grant to be topped up by R500 per month per child for six months, as per the unit’s modelling.
It pointed out other forms of social support, like the school nutrition scheme which feeds 10 million children, were no longer available.
“This measure [the grant increase] is critical to mitigate the impact on children and families during the lockdown as well as the current and future economic shocks created by Covid-19,” read the letter.
The campaign also grew on social media.
Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday was widely welcomed, as it appeared as though the Presidency had adopted this call, when it had only done so in part.
Food parcelsA) Extra cost of logistics and delivery B) Gov already has limited administrative capacity C) Risk of not reaching people who need it most
Child Support GrantA) Already reaches 30m peopleB) Can top it up without straining the system = less people go hungry
— Zaakir (@flapjackzak) April 20, 2020
The general-secretary of the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union, Myrtle Witbooi, said the impact on households was devastating.
For a grandmother, for example, looking after three children, to not receive equal support for all the children was devastating, she added.
And with the possibility that domestic workers could only rejoin the workforce in a level 2 lockdown scenario, as per the government’s risk assessment strategy, many thousands of women will join the ranks of informal workers on the brink of poverty.
“Yesterday, 27 domestic workers phoned me to say their employers said they don’t know if they can wait that long for them to return to work.
“The grant increase is adding a bit, but it is not fully compensating what happens in a household. It doesn’t protect the children from going hungry,” Witbooi said.