The Department of Social Development says it is open to reviewing the R350 means test for eligibility for the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, depending on how many people apply for it.
The department came under fire from civil society activists after it published a surprise change to the grant regulations that restrict eligibility to people who have income of less than R350 a month. Under the previous regulations, which were made under the State of Disaster, the income threshold was set at the food poverty line of R625.
Around 10.5 million people have consistently received the special Covid SRD and caregiver grant (which has now collapsed into the SRD grant) since their inception in April 2020. Activists and pro-income grant lobby groups say that this will mean that fewer people will qualify this time. All applicants must reapply for the grants under the new regulations and renew their application every three months to confirm that their situation has not changed.
But the department said according to its calculations, it expected far more than 10.5 million to apply, and so in order to stay within its budget allocation, it had lowered the income threshold to reduce numbers.
Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday, the acting director-general of the department Brenda Sibeko, said she wanted to explain what had happened.
“I know that the means test has made many people unhappy. We wish to explain that we are dealing with the challenge of (only) so much resources and needs that are unlimited. So from our data, there are 18 million people with income below the food poverty line. But the allocation that we have is only for 10.5 million people. So we are looking at making sure that we prioritise the most needy.”
Asked whether there had been public consultation over the new income threshold, Sibeko said the draft regulations had been published in February for public comment but had not included the R350 number. This was added later, but there had been consultation within government and agreement among all relevant departments, she said.
The broadside on the grant will strain attempts to reach a social compact with labour and business. President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he wants the new pact in place within 100 days of the State of the Nation speech he delivered on 10 February. Cosatu issued a fiery statement earlier this week calling the decision “unilateral and callous”. The union federation said it expected that around 30% of previous grant recipients would no longer be eligible.
“It is disappointing that this was not tabled at Nedlac by government even though social partners have spent a great deal of time engaging on and working with government on the new regulations…It is difficult to imagine how a social compact will be negotiated with a sneaky government that chooses to undermine and by-pass Nedlac on such an important issue,” said the statement.
The department has also angered people for taking so long to reopen applications. While the previous grant ended at the end of March, it was only on 23 April that it set up the new application system. Sibeko said that government was “a bit concerned” that only 7 million people had applied so far and urged people to do so urgently. She said the system could process 5 million a day over the remaining three days of April.