Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE
Lindiwe Zulu. Picture: GCIS/KOPANO TLAPE

Since the announcement of the extension of the government's special Covid-19 social relief grant, more than 65,700 applications have been received, social development minister Lindiwe Zulu said on Friday.

The applications for the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant reopened on February 13.

After months of discussions and debate over continued social and economic relief, President Cyril Ramaphosa during his state of the nation address (Sona) earlier in February, announced that the R350 grant, which is aimed at unemployed people who receive no other form of government assistance, would be extended.

The temporary grant, set up in 2020, formed part of the government’s economic and social relief package established to cushion the blow of the hard lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Pressure to extend that and other relief grew when the government tightened level 3 lockdown restrictions late in December, when the country entered the second wave of the virus. The counterargument centred on affordability as a shrinking economy and spending pressure led the budget deficit to balloon.

Zulu said the 9.7-million people, who had already applied for the grant, would continue to be reassessed monthly, and qualifying applicants would continue to be paid.

About six-million beneficiaries receive the R350 grant on a monthly basis.

The department of social development has already spent R17bn on the grant, and anticipated that by the end of the extended period it would fork out over R22bn, the minister said.  

However, Zulu said 42,329 beneficiaries had voluntarily cancelled their grants as their situation had improved and they no longer needed it.  

She said this was encouraging for the department: the more the economy grew and jobs created, the less pressure it would put on her department, she said.

SA has an extensive welfare grant system that covers more than 18-million of SA’s most vulnerable people, including children, pensioners and people with disabilities. This welfare net excludes working-age adults who are unemployed, which led to the establishment of several short-term relief measures in 2020.

On Friday, Zulu noted the adjustments made to social grants in finance minister Tito Mboweni's budget.

While we would have preferred a full inflation linked increase, we understand the fiscal constraints he has to deal with,” she said.

“We are pleased that during this very difficult time, the national budget remains pro-poor and developmental. The social services, which include health and education, continue to have the bulk of the budget allocation at about 60% of the total budget, and the social development budget together with the social security funds is about a one third of that allocation.”

On Wednesday, Mboweni allocated R2.1bn in the budget for a three-month extension of the special Covid-19 social relief of distress grant, but failed to increase welfare grants in line with inflation for the first time in more than a decade.

The Treasury allocated increases to the welfare grants that did not keep pace with inflation, which it estimates will be 3.9% in 2021/2022.

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