The South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) distributes more than 18 million grants to vulnerable beneficiaries every month.
Sassa introduced the Social Relief of Distress grant, commonly referred to as the SRD or R350 grant, during the Covid-19 pandemic to assist some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.
The grant was meant to last for a period of six months after it was introduced, but it has since been extended a few times and is set to come to an end in March 2024.
Every year, Finance minister Enoch announces social grant increases. However, the R350 grant has remained at the same value despite calls for the grant to be increased in line with inflation, to avert extreme poverty and starvation.
Countless Cries for an SRD grant increase
Many, including Sassa grant beneficiaries, organisations and even members of parliament, have called for the Special Relief of Distress (SRD) grant to be increased. Despite this, nothing has been done in the two years the SRD grant has been running.
Social activist, Mervyn Abrahams from the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group says that government must re-prioritise its expenditure and implement the long-awaited basic income grant.
He explained that if people had more money in their pockets it could help stimulate the economy.
Because we have such high unemployment levels our Social Security net needs to catch people from going into abject poverty needs to catch households where children might possibly die because of under nutrition.
Abrahams continues, “So our Social Security net needs to be strengthened and by that, I mean we need to invest more into our social security grant system.”
Is R350 per month Enough?
According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, food and non-alcoholic beverage inflation is sitting at the highest point since May 2008 and more than double the upper inflation target limit.
It is for this reason that lobby groups are calling for the value of the grant to be raised to a minimum of R413 to account for inflation since 2020, including a plan to increase it progressively until it reaches the current Federal Poverty Level.
Many grant beneficiaries have raised concerns saying the R350 they receive each month does not suffice for the duration of the month, with some saying they can barely get by with the amount for one week alone.
Responding to calls the Department of Social Development noted that the lack of an increase is due to "fiscal constraints". They went further and said that they too are concerned that, in fewer words, the grant is not enough. In explaining, they said:
The Department is also concerned that since its implementation in 2020, the value has remained unchanged and is not keeping pace with inflation which directly translate to the value of the grant decreasing every year as the inflation increases.
Progress on Basic Income Grant
The implementation of the new grant could address the country’s extremely high rates of poverty and ensure that all people have an adequate standard of living.
The grants main purpose will be to provide income support for individuals between the ages of 18 and 59 who are financially struggling, unemployed and don't have any social assistance.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) says that one of their main priorities for the 2023/24 financial year is the country’s poverty alleviation strategy, which includes the policy on the basic income support.