South Africa has long been in discussion surrounding the upgrading of the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant from R350 to R624, which will then be known as the Basic Income Grant (BIG).

The increase from R350 to R624 would align with the food poverty line, and aims to provide a consistent means of financial support to South Africa’s most vulnerable citizens. 

The SRD grant was first introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, as many citizens faced extreme poverty and social insecurity as a result of the lockdowns and loss of jobs, and was only meant to be temporary. 

The calls for a universal Basic Income Grant is in response to the high levels of poverty, inequality, and unemployment in the country that was in development before, during and after Covid-19. The unemployment crisis has become so severe that the majority of the unemployed are not expected to find work in the short term. 

The intention behind the implementation of the BIG is to provide assistance to South Africans struggling to keep up with the cost of living. 

A meeting of the Second BRICS Working Group was held in Port Alfred, Eastern Cape on Tuesday, 9 May 2023 to further discuss the implementation of the BIG. 

BRICS is an association of emerging economies, namely: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The meeting is taking place under the theme: “Ensuring Decent Work, Dignity and Respect for all” and it will end on Friday, 12 May 2023.

Dr. Joni Musabayana, International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director for Decent Work for Southern and Eastern Africa was speaking during a panel discussion on the background dealing with Universal Social Protection and Basic Income Grant (BIG), said: 

The reason we have to urgently resolve this matter is that the Covid–19 Pandemic has shown us that crises are going to become part of our lives and therefore we have to be disaster ready at all times. We need Social Protection to limit the impact so that we don’t panic every time there is crisis. 

Stats SA recorded that 11.8 million people were unemployed in quarter four 2022, with the majority of them being unemployed long-term. The R350 grant is not only a lifeline for many, but it has also been shown to promote job-seeking, job creation, and economic activity in the country.

The Black Sash Coalition highlighted that the R350 grant regulations are exclusionary and create unnecessary barriers for the most impoverished and vulnerable people in society.

In failing to amend the grant amount, the means test, and mechanisms for application and verification of income, government has once again failed to take the opportunity to address many of the challenges which have plagued access to, and implementation of, the SRD (R350 grant) since its inception, but particularly since new Regulations were introduced in April 2022. 

Although the government reported a R94 billion revenue overrun in the recent budget, the National Treasury has suggested that the SRD Grant is unaffordable. The budget allocation for the grant is far too low to reach the group of people living below the food poverty line, as indicated by government’s own statistics. 

The Basic Income Grant was given the green light earlier this year, but the rollout has been slow. 

Dr. Musabayana added: 

The elephant in the room is the real unemployment challenge in South Africa. This gives us a structural challenge, with many people unable to access this relief 

Christina Behrendt, Head of Social Policy Unit in the Social Protection Department of the ILO, said guaranteeing at least a basic level of income security is a key function of national social protection.

“Minimum income grants and other social assistance benefits play a key role in guaranteeing at least a basic level of income security with important features being:

  • Programmes anchored in national law, clear and transparent eligibility conditions (including on means-tests), grievance mechanisms and rights of appeal
  • Benefit levels of adequate to allow for life in dignity
  • Regular review of benefit levels of keeping up with living standards
  • Social dialogue that involves tripartite participation and other relevant stakeholder,” she said.

Sipho Ndebele, Acting Deputy Director-General responsible for Labour Policy and Industrial Relations in the Department of Employment Labour, said the importance of Social Protection is well-recognised in “promoting inclusive economic growth, reducing inequality and alleviating poverty as well as decent work.”

We must ensure that social protection systems are effective, efficient and accessible to all workers, including those in the informal economy as well as the vulnerable groups. 

While many are onboard with the implementation of the BIG, some remain skeptical. 

Many concerns have been raised regarding how government plans to fund the grant and whether or not it will be of actual use to people in need, with some fearing that the South African government is not thinking about more sustainable solutions to tackle ongoing socio-economic challenges. 


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