The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) is repelled and repulsed by the determination of the ANC government’s commitment towards neoliberal austerity that excludes millions of people who, forced by poverty, applied for the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG) R350 relief.
The scale of SRD Grant rejections/disapprovals
In the report released by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) on 07 July 2022, the number of approved applicants for the Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRDG) has been scaled down significantly. The total number of those who applied for the SRD Grants during the extremely short period when applications were reopened is 11,3 million. Of this, only 5,2 million were approved, and 3,7 million of them received their SRD Grants as of 30 June 2022.
The overwhelming majority of the applicants, at 53,6%, were denied the SRD Grants. Compared to the 10,9 million approved applicants in March 2022, the miniscule number of those approved represents a decline of 51,6%.
After much bungling of the grant disbursement process by the Department of Social Development (DSD) resulting in delays and non-payments of grants in April and May, the number of those who received the SRD Grants in June 2022 declined by 64,1% compared to March 2022.
In the second phase of the SRD Grants, the DSD slashed the monthly income eligibility criteria for the SRDG from a little above the Food Poverty Line (FPL) at R640 to R350. Consequently, those who have a little income of just over R350 in their bank accounts monthly will be disqualified from accessing this grant.
Even at the time of the R640 monthly income eligibility criteria, SASSA only paid the SRDG to about 10,5 million people at the peak, leaving out about 7,8 million of the 18,3 million people who according to government live below the Food Poverty Line.
Despite that the R640 income criteria was not enough and excluded many people, the ANC government went on to introduce a new income eligibility criteria to the exclusion of even more millions of desperate unemployed and poverty ridden working class people.
Though still meagre, SAFTU and other organisations campaigning for the Basic Income Grant (BIG) have set R1 500 as an ideal income grant. Determining this amount is based on a refusal to recognise the current Upper Bound Poverty Line (UPBL) as the true measure of poverty, and thus as an inadequate income criteria for eligibility of the BIG or SRDG.
But the ANC government did not reduce the income elegibility cap to R350 by mistake. If anything, it is a conscious policy decision. They are committed to neoliberal fiscal policy by which they have imposed unnecessary fiscal restraints.
Their plans are to cut the fiscus in totality by 1,7% as a percentage of the GDP. For social security, government plans to cut the social protection expenditure by a nominal 3% as a percentage of the GDP over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF – 2021). If we factor inflation in the same period which is averaged at 5,2% during the same period (5.9% – 2022, 5% – 2023, 4.8% – 2024), the real decline is too high.
The SRD Grant will among other areas of social grants suffer the deepest cut; being slashed by 76% from R44,3 billion in 2022/23 to a mere R406 million in 2024/25. This means the ANC government plans to drastically cut the expenditure of SRDG over the next 3 years, and thus, have no plans to introduce the BIG at R1 500 per month as demanded by SAFTU and other working-class formations.
The budget plans above shows that introducing the income eligibility cap of R350 was not a mistake or an accident, but a carefully planned criteria by the ANC government to keep in line with their fiscal policy projections and plans.
Unfortunately, their fiscal policy plans are effectively condemning the working class — the unemployed, students, workers, learners and the pensioners — to poverty and misery, and chronically poor services in the townships and villages.
Seeing that they do not plan to increase expenditure on SRDG or BIG in the near future, the working-class people must rise to fight and resist.
SAFTU calls on all sections of the working class to join the National Shutdown that SAFTU has resolved to stage on 24 August 2022 (a suggested date subject to change in discussions with the working class formations). This is part of the fightback that SAFTU has committed to wage in protest of rising costs of living, austerity, privatisation, living wage and the economic and social crisis of capitalism.