Carol Paton Editor at Large
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu elaborates on Covid-19 socioeconomic relief interventions during a media briefing in Pretoria on April 29 2020. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu elaborates on Covid-19 socioeconomic relief interventions during a media briefing in Pretoria on April 29 2020. Picture: GCIS/JAIRUS MMUTLE

The government cannot afford to top up all 13-million child support grants with R500, as was stated by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his announcement last week, social development minister Lindiwe Zulu said on Wednesday while explaining why the R500 top-up will go to caregivers only.

However, Zulu also intimated that the child support grant could be increased in the future once the Covid-19 crisis had passed.

The move to de-link the top-up grant from the child benefit has caused an outcry by anti-poverty and children’s rights academics, and legal and economics groups who argue that this will not be in the interests of children, who are already under stress from the closure of school feeding schemes, or of women who are caregivers and are not be entitled to the special Covid-19 unemployment grant.

Evidence shows that child support grants are very well targeted and reach the poorest section of society and those involved in informal economic activities.

Zulu said a R500 top-up to all child support grants would have cost R38bn over six months. The R500 grant to caregivers — of which there are 7-million — will cost the fiscus R21.8bn over six months. In the first month (May) the grant will not go to the caregiver but will be received as a top-up of R350 to each grant, while the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) prepares its administration systems.

“I wish to acknowledge all the proposals and input we received on how we should augment the social grants. One of the key contributions was the call for an increase in the child support grant by R500 per child. While I acknowledge that all the proposals were sound and well motivated, we were unfortunately not able to provide the necessary funding to accommodate every one of the proposals,” said Zulu.

Zulu said that government was aware that the child support grant, at R440 a month, was small.

“We are very conscious of the fact that the child support grant is the lowest and it is below the poverty line. We need to have a conversation as a country to look at ways in the future the amount of money is increased,” she said.

Zulu also gave more detail on how beneficiaries for the new Covid-19 unemployment grant of R350 a month would be identified. Applicants must be over 18, SA citizens, permanent residents or legal refugees, unemployed and not receiving any government grant, stipend or any other benefit. Among the requirements to apply were proof of address and the need for a bank account, both of which will be difficult for many to obtain.

“We had endless discussions about the need for banking details but we are working on a system to reach those without bank accounts,” she said.

The provision of food parcels is uneven and many far-flung areas were not being reached, she said. Together with the Solidarity Fund, the government has distributed 58,000 food parcels to households with a value of R700 each.

In addition, the department of social development has a pre-existing data base of stressed households who receive food relief in parcels to the value of R1,200.

The value of the standard government food parcels and the ones being distributed by social development and the Solidarity Fund is well above the R350 unemployment grant, the R500 caregiver grant or the R445 child support grant.

“I’m at pains with my department to stress — and I thank all of those who have been contributing — we want to make a plea that these parcels must not only go to areas that are easy to reach. The problem is that we have far-flung areas that are not receiving the same. Can donors please work with communities,” she said.

patonc@businesslive.co.za