Over 15 Million People Have Become SASSA Beneficiaries

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South Africa's ongoing living crisis, extreme levels of poverty and unemployment show no signs of slowing down even with the help of social grants. But, one expert says that the guaranteed distribution of the R350 grant can actually serve as a starting point for people to get out of the vicious poverty cycle. 


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In 1999, a little over 2.5 million people in South Africa were receiving grants from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). Now, this number has grown to be around 18 million. 

This major increase can be attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw many job losses and unemployment in the country worsen, as well as the sky-high levels that the cost of living and inflation has risen to. 

To combat this, the South African government introduced the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, which saw beneficiaries receive R350 per month.

Almost half of the country's household population has been recorded as having at least one recipient of a social grant, which includes all SASSA grants such as Child Support, Disability, Old Persons grant, the SRD grant, Foster Child grant, Care Dependency grant and the Grant In Aid. 

South Africa celebrated Human Rights Day, on Tuesday 21 March 2023; on the 25th, the Social Policy Initiative will be showcasing a documentary (titled "Decent Path") that highlights grant recipients and how far the money they receive is able to carry them, especially as social grants serve as a main source of income for many households. 

The documentary will debut during the Human Rights Festival, held at Constitutional Hill. 

On Human Rights Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa tweeted about the significant increase from 2.5 million grant beneficiaries in 1999, to 18 million beneficiaries in 2023.

Many Twitter users were displeased with this statement, stating that it's nothing to be proud of as it reflects the country's growing unemployment rate and shows how many more people are living in extreme poverty, with some labelling the country as a "welfare State". 

Isobel Frye, Executive Director of the Social Policy Initiative, says that recognizing South Africa as a "welfare State" is not a bad thing, as it is indicative that the State is doing something to support its most vulnerable citizens, instead of ignoring the issue. 

"We should call it a 'caring State', as state that cares for its people," said Frye. "If the private sector doesn't create jobs, if people are hungry, then what is the State meant to do? The State is meant to provide that basic platform which enables people to start their own livelihoods, and that's what the movie also shows," she explained.

When the Social Policy Initiative conducted their research, they came across statistics regarding the number of beneficiaries and the need for social grants. But what was missing, says Frye, were the beneficiaries' own stories about the grants they receive.

"[In the documentary], we track five beneficiaries throughout the period of applying [for the grant], what they did with the grant, and then for most of them, the tragedy when they stopped receiving the grant," explained Frye. 

Frye adds that the visuals, sights and sounds that were collected of where grant beneficiaries live, "broke that silence as to what destitution really looks like," saying that non-grant recipients often perceive a "sanitized" version of vulnerable citizen's needs, and that the term "basic needs" takes away from the destitution of poverty. 

Many of the country's citizens are entirely dependent on the money this grant provides, and experience devastation when that money comes to an abrupt end, especially when their living and/or employment situation has not changed. 

The Social Policy Initiative's research also showed that by giving people access to income that is guaranteed and not taken away, "they're able to take small risks and can start looking for jobs," says Frye. 

The SRD grant was initially introduced on a temporary basis, but has since been extended on numerous occasions. 

The grant has been extended to March 2024, and in the meantime "work is underway to provide basic income support for the most vulnerable within the country’s fiscal constraints," said Ramaphosa. 

 

Suggested Article:

Sassa paying permanent grants in March 2023

Millions of social grant recipients will receive their money this week. This comes as the South African Social Security Agency begins with March 2023 grant payments.

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