Political parties contesting the municipal elections on November 1, may suffer a backlash from voters in Gauteng, according to the findings of a quality of life study which shows that citizens are reeling from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Along with rising unemployment, deepening poverty and growing inequality, is dissatisfaction over the performance of the government, among the people of Gauteng, revealed the comprehensive Quality of Life Survey 6 (2020/21) which assessed the effects of Covid-19 on people throughout the province.
“We would imagine that there will be some impact on how people vote but our data doesn't provide any indication of that. But it’s clear that there is an increase in dissatisfaction with all the levels of government, and throughout our survey data, we get the sense that people feel that, in some respects, they've really been let down by (the) government,” said Christian Hamann, a researcher on the project.
The Quality of Life study provides an understanding of the quality of life, socio-economic conditions, satisfaction with services and government, psycho-social attitudes and experiences of residents in the Gauteng City-Region (GCR). The longitudinal nature of the survey means that these conditions and experiences can be reported on over time.
“The study shows people are dissatisfied with a number of things, particularly job creation. But one of the other things that our respondents are really concerned and unhappy about is the level of corruption in various spheres of (the) government. This will influence how people vote, and whether they decide to, but we don't know what's going to happen,” he added.
However, according to the study, 62% of respondents are satisfied with the way in which the government has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, while 27% are dissatisfied. This level of satisfaction is much higher than satisfaction with the government in general – for example, only 33% of respondents are satisfied with the national government.
But there were some variations between municipalities in Gauteng. In Lesedi (32%), Emfuleni (31%), Rand West (29%), Tshwane (28%), Ekurhuleni (28%) and Midvaal (28%), the proportion of respondents who are dissatisfied with the way the government responded to the Covid-19 pandemic is higher than the provincial average (27%). The lowest proportion of dissatisfied respondents is in Merafong (23%).
There are also variations within the metropolitan municipalities. Dissatisfaction with the way in which government responded to the Covid-19 pandemic was higher in the southern region of Tshwane, the southern region of Johannesburg and the eastern region of Ekurhuleni. Dissatisfaction was relatively low in the central (and more affluent) regions of Johannesburg.
The survey, conducted every two years, is published by the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO), a partnership of the University of Johannesburg, the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, the Gauteng Provincial Government and organised local government in Gauteng (SALGA).
The Quality of Life Survey (QoL) is a flagship project of the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) and has been run every two years since 2009. In addition to Hamann, the study team was made up of Gillian Maree, Christina Culwick Fatti, Graeme Götz and Alexandra Parker.
According to the findings, the economic impact of the pandemic has been harsh, with depression and hunger being major concerns. Many respondents have lost their jobs or had their salaries cut. These impacts have been widespread, but not everyone has been equally affected. In many ways, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities around wealth, race and gender.
One of the clearest measures of poverty is whether a household said that either adults or children in the households had missed a meal in the past year because there was insufficient money to buy food. Historically, and again in QoL 2020/21, the lower income brackets report the highest levels of skipping meals. Between 2017/18 and 2020/21, the percentage of respondents saying they or another adult in the household had missed a meal increased only marginally from 25% to 26%.
In the lowest income bracket of R1–R800, the percentage fell from 46% to 43% and in the R801–R3 200 bracket, it dropped from 35% to 34%. There were slightly larger increases in the middle income groups, such as a rise from 6% to 8% in the R12 801–R25 600 bracket. Overall, the percentage of adult hunger grew from 25% to 26% because 29% of those who were economically impacted, say they or another adult in the household skipped a meal.
The data suggests that white respondents, those with higher levels of education, and those from wealthier households have been better able to protect themselves from the more severe economic impacts than those with a lower socio-economic status.
The government has put in place significant social safety nets, with many households benefiting from the Social Relief in Distress (SRD) grants or food parcels.
Furthermore, the survey found that Covid-19 has had deep socio-economic impacts, but these impacts vary by race, sex and income group. Wealthier households were relatively more shielded from job losses. Black Africans and the lowest income groups have been heavily impacted. Some social and economic support has protected some of the most vulnerable
But the study shows that there are indications that this support may not always have reached those who most need it. Those who were most vulnerable before the pandemic may find themselves even more vulnerable now. Middle income groups, who weren't in poverty before are barely surviving.
Asked about the aim behind the study, Hamann said their goal was to provide data that can inform evidence-based policy decisions, mainly for the government to use as a strategic planning and diagnostic tool.
“We don't necessarily always make a policy recommendation, but our data provides certain things that government needs to be thinking. As one example, the outcome of survey data shows that females are often more negatively impacted by various aspects in our survey. Fifty-two percent of females have spent more time looking after dependents, since March 2020, compared to only 29% of males.”
In addition, more women lost jobs and found it hard to bounce back than males during the pandemic, the survey found.
Hamann said the government can use data obtained between October 2020 and May 2021 to provide better support to society, in particular, women via research and policy-making.
The GCRO has worked with the Gauteng Provincial Government and key role-players during the pandemic to provide research, data and insights to help inform response planning to Covid-19.
Come November 1, one wonders whether citizens would be forgiving, given there is intent by the government to learn and act on the poor quality of life for most.