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CoE Articles

South Africa’s social welfare net in need of reinforcement

Published , by Mologadi Makwela

If a BIG was a fringe idea before 2020, the fallout from the COVID-19 lockdown has added urgency to the issue, suggested Professor Francie Lund, presently associated with the Social Protection Programme at WIEGO. Lund is familiar with such interventions, having chaired the eponymously named Lund Committee on Child and Family Support in 1995, the group that developed South Africa’s Child Support Grant.

But it is a conversation, acknowledged Lund, that comes ridden with vested political and corporate interests, which threaten to undermine “the legitimacy of the whole system”.

“That itself is going to impact on how the idea of a basic income grant or universal basic income will be perceived, and will or will not be allowed to happen,” said Lund.

Lund was speaking at a 15 September webinar hosted by the national Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), jointly hosted by the University of the Western Cape and the University of Pretoria (UP). Titled ‘Public Safety Nets to Curb Impacts of Pandemics on the Vulnerable’, the webinar aimed to look at South Africa’s social welfare system before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The already gaping holes in South Africa’s safety net were cruelly exposed over the lockdown, argued Advocate Karabo Ozah, director of UP’s Centre for Child Law. The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended, immediately denying millions of children of meals. There were delays in administering new applications for the relief grants that the state rolled out. No new applications for the Disability Grant were accepted for some time. Among other shortcomings.

But even before COVID-19, and for all government’s good work during it, the social safety net was already falling short of its objective to radically address poverty in South Africa, said Ozah.

What we saw is that the most vulnerable became even more vulnerable

Karabo Ozah, director of UP’s Centre for Child Law

If a BIG was a fringe idea before 2020, the fallout from the COVID-19 lockdown has added urgency to the issue, suggested Professor Francie Lund, presently associated with the Social Protection Programme at WIEGO. Lund is familiar with such interventions, having chaired the eponymously named Lund Committee on Child and Family Support in 1995, the group that developed South Africa’s Child Support Grant.

But it is a conversation, acknowledged Lund, that comes ridden with vested political and corporate interests, which threaten to undermine “the legitimacy of the whole system”.

“That itself is going to impact on how the idea of a basic income grant or universal basic income will be perceived, and will or will not be allowed to happen,” said Lund.

Lund was speaking at a 15 September webinar hosted by the national Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS), jointly hosted by the University of the Western Cape and the University of Pretoria (UP). Titled ‘Public Safety Nets to Curb Impacts of Pandemics on the Vulnerable’, the webinar aimed to look at South Africa’s social welfare system before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The already gaping holes in South Africa’s safety net were cruelly exposed over the lockdown, argued Advocate Karabo Ozah, director of UP’s Centre for Child Law. The National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended, immediately denying millions of children of meals. There were delays in administering new applications for the relief grants that the state rolled out. No new applications for the Disability Grant were accepted for some time. Among other shortcomings.

But even before COVID-19, and for all government’s good work during it, the social safety net was already falling short of its objective to radically address poverty in South Africa, said Ozah.

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