Ending SRD grant would jeopardise welfare of poor children, researchers warn
The welfare of the group has barely improved since the Covid-19 pandemic eased, study reads
Phasing out the social relief of distress (SRD) grant would have a devastating impact on children from poor households, whose welfare has barely improved since the Covid-19 pandemic eased, warns a new study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
The R350 per month SRD was introduced by the government in 2020 to cushion poor households against the hardship caused by the lockdowns it imposed in response to the pandemic. The grant reaches about 8.5-million beneficiaries, and is due to end in March 2024.
“If you take that away, given food price increases and the fact that the unemployment rate has not changed, this will be a huge economic shock to households,” said the study’s lead researcher, Leila Patel, professor at the centre.
The CSDA study included 123 children from grade R to grade 3 in five state schools serving poor communities in Johannesburg. The research was not intended to be representative of SA, but aimed to probe a wide range of challenges facing children in the foundation phase of schooling, said Patel.
It tracked children and their caregivers over three years, from 2020 to 2022. SA detected its first case of Covid-19 in March 2020, and went into its first lockdown just weeks later.
The study found less childhood hunger and lower rates of depression among caregivers in 2022 compared with 2020, but the wellbeing of children remained fragile and many exhibited enduring problems.
“Although we have come far since 2020, we have also observed that many of the problems [children and families] face have hardened over time. In some cases, the gains made before the pandemic were reversed and in the recovery period these have not been fully regained,” said Patel.
The proportion of children who went to bed hungry fell from 16% in 2020 to 4.9% in 2022, but the proportion of children who were wasted (with a low weight for their height) rose sharply over the period, from 5.6% to 20.3%.
“This means a fifth of the children in our study had inadequate intake of food or received food that was of poor quality,” wrote the study authors.
There was a gradual decrease in the number of children experiencing emotional or behavioural difficulties over the three years of the study, but a high proportion (26%) were still showing conduct problems in 2022.
Unemployment among caregivers barely changed over the period of the study, dipping slightly from 63.4% in 2020 to 62.6% in 2022. More than four fifths (84%) of the children in the study were recipients of the child support grant (R510 per month), and 40% of caregivers reported that the grant contributed to household income.
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