EDITORIAL: SA can’t afford to extend unemployment grant as that’s unsustainable
The government has had a bumpy ride in trying to deal with the effects of the lockdown, and the struggle is far from over despite several restrictions being relaxed under the current lockdown level 1.
Several mistakes were made and good deeds have also been elevated since the country slipped into lockdown in March. But one good deed that is likely to bite President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bottom is the R350 grant for the millions of unemployed people during lockdown.
This money was meant to cushion the financial impact of lockdown for those living in poverty and without employment. A good initiative indeed from our government, but the reality that this grant was supposed to be distributed for only six months (ending in October) is coming back to haunt the President.
On Monday, civil society led by former public protector Professor Thuli Madonsela and Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the SA Federation of Trade Unions, called for the government to extend the distribution of this grant and to increase the amount to R585.
Their reasons also made sense. “During times of financial difficulty, the poor are often the first to be offloaded. We cannot let this happen. We applaud the government, thus far, for providing social relief to those in need. But recovery will not happen in a heartbeat, and we need these grants to be extended to support our economy,” charged Madonsela on Monday.
“Keeping these grants is a part of ubuntu. Investing in these grants is investing in all of us. If we withdraw these grants, we would be putting a huge social burden squarely on the shoulders of women and girls. This is unjust,” she added. She is correct about the importance of this grant, but the reality is that it is not sustainable and it’s proved to be a nightmare to manage and distribute.
The country can simply not afford it. We have about 10 million unemployed people and if we give them each R350 monthly, that would translate to about R4 billion spent by the state every month to sustain the grants.
This could see our government run to international banks to seek loans just to keep the R350 tap flowing. Social grants are simply not sustainable and the government needs to find better ways of dealing with poverty.