The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) has noted the propositions by National Treasury and Presidency — two government sectors reinforcing one another — proposing to replace the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG), not with a Basic Income Grant (BIG) but other grants that will lessen its responsibility and spending.
Government has outlined plans to replace the SRD Grants with the job seekers grant and household grant. Though these proposed grants target some members of the group that is currently receiving the SRD Grants, it is now only targeting a fraction of them by bringing new measures and means test to limit access to these grants.
Job seekers grant
Having categorised the currently poor people who are receiving the SRD Grants into three groups, the job seekers grant will target the middle group that is said to be poor or has some constraints. Currently, this group constitute 4,1 million of the current SRDG recipients and will proceed to qualify for the job seeker grant of R350 in case they do not find a job in the government employment programs such as Expanded Public Works programme or Presidential Employment Initiative.
But government will not be able to absolutely and with certainty determine all those who ‘deserve’ this grant. It will be difficult to build a database for all the job seekers, and people will have to show they have sought work. In other words, this criterion will be discriminatory and exclusionary. It will overwhelmingly exclude those who did not apply for the government employment programmes, but ‘deserve’ the grant because of unemployment and poverty. Most importantly, the group of 4.6 million current SRD grant beneficiaries who are regarded as too poor and marginalised to seek work, will not qualify for the grant; nor will the group of 1.9 million ‘less poor’ beneficiaries, because they are regarded as better off. So 62% of current SRD beneficiaries would be excluded from the jobseekers grant!
In 2021, SAFTU rejected a proposal by Treasury to introduce a family grant. This household grant appears to be a family grant smuggled through a different jargon. In addition, now it is aimed at relieving the category labelled as those who are “extremely poor” that constitute 4,6 million of the current recipients of SRD Grants.
In 2021, we warned that the family grant “will exclude more unemployed people, will introduce a burdensome “means test” on income, and will further penalise women due to the way South African capitalism has amplified patriarchy at the household level, often preventing women from getting access to funds and causing strife in families.”
Based on this reason, we rejected the “family grant”, and so we do today reject the proposed “household grant.”
The presidency and national treasury’s prejudice against the BIG on the basis that it is unfordable is based on a neoliberal fiscal framework. That our government acts in line with the dictates outlined by global financial institutions such as the World Bank, serves to demonstrate in whose interests is the ANC government ruling. Indeed, the proposal of job seekers was copied directly from the playbook of World Bank which incorporated the proposal for a R350 jobseekers grant aimed at only 3.8 million active workseekers, to replace the SRD grant in its Country Partnership to South Africa report in 2021.
SAFTU reiterates its demand for a Basic Income Grant to be introduced progressively at R1 500. It is our belief that in turn, BIG will have positive multiplier effects in the economy by boosting demand and production, whilst relieving poverty among the unemployed.
We further reiterate that government must introduce a R1 trillion stimulus package that is people-centred and worker-centred. This will allow government to intervene in the economy including by introducing a basic income grant and increase the public sector wage bill for public service especially frontline workers, fill the 200 000 vacancies and drive employment creation through such programmes as housing brigades, environmental restoration (such as climate resilience investment) and other public-good infrastructure programmes. Government must abandon its austerity policies and invest in the health, education and stability of our poor and working-class masses. This stimulus will boost consumer demand, and in the event that capitalists do not increase general prices of goods and services, leads to the creation of more jobs.