Cape Town - Organisations and academics have urged the government to implement the mooted basic income grant amid rising unemployment, poverty and hunger.
Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has now indicated that implementation of such a grant would not be possible before March 2021.
Ministerial spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the discussions were at an early stage.
The organisations questioned the ruling party’s “political will” to implement the grant, adding that while expenditure trade-offs were “inevitable”, these should not come at the expense of starvation of the poor.
Zulu announced the basic income grant at a recent briefing on the response to Covid-19 and said it was being considered for unemployed South Africans aged 18-59.
The Black Sash has urged the governing party, other political parties, the Cabinet, Nedlac, trade unions and the National Treasury to fully support a basic income support, particularly for those with limited income.
“By October, the government has an obligation under international law to ensure that those between the ages of 18 and 59 with little or no income have access to social assistance,” said Black Sash national director Lynette Maart.
Maart said social assistance for that group must continue beyond Covid-19 social relief of distress and caregiver grants. She added that the top-ups to all other social grants given at the start of the lockdown must remain in force permanently.
Black Sash estimated that between 10 and 15million people would need social assistance.
First mooted in a 1997 White Paper during former president Nelson Mandela’s rule, the government appointed the Taylor Commission in 2000 to investigate ways to extend the social security system to provide comprehensive coverage for all.
The committee’s report proposed the implementation of a basic income grant of at least R100 to address different aspects of poverty and to stimulate job creation. Although supported by the Basic Income Grant Coalition, consisting of Cosatu, Black Sash and the SA Council of Churches, among others, the idea was turned down.
Professor of economics at Stellenbosch University Ingrid Woolard said the idea of the basic income grant was to help poor people who were not currently receiving any social grant assistance from the government.
Woolard said the country spends about 3.5% of gross domestic product on social grants for 18million children, elderly people and those living with disabilities.
“Recent estimates that we have done suggest that poverty is reduced by about 12 percentage points through the current grant system. Nonetheless, there are households that get no form of support because they don’t include any children, older or disabled persons.”
Woolard believed that the idea of the basic income grant had “some political traction”; however, it was not clear where it ranked in terms of overall political priorities.
“At a time when tax revenue is under serious pressure, political choices need to be made. Which is more important, the National Health Insurance or universal basic income grant?” Woolard said.
Political analyst Dr Somadoda Fikeni said he doubted that the idea would get off the ground any time soon given the country’s “fiscal crisis”.
However, the Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC) believed that the basic income grant was an “idea whose time has come”.
“With more than 10.2million unemployed people, at approximately 40% of the labour force, unemployment should be declared a national emergency,” said AIDC economic justice programme manager Dominic Brown.