Activists who have been working on issues affecting women and children have written an open letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa urging him to put measures in place that will not risk further food insecurity and hunger.
Dear President Ramaphosa
On Thursday 15 October 2020, you announced South Africa’s Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that contains measures to restore South Africa’s economy devastated by Covid-19. One of the measures was an extension of the R350 Special Covid-19 Relief of Distress Grant for three months.
Your announcement made no mention of the extension and/or increase of the R500 Caregiver Grant currently paid to 7.1 million caregivers who receive child support grants (CSGs) for the 12.9 million children in their care. This means that 20 million people, a third of the country, will have their income slashed at the end of October. These 20 million people are overwhelmingly women and children (98% of caregivers who receive the CSG are women), and they are by definition the poorest women and children in SA because they already had to pass a very low means test.
This decision is deeply concerning and puzzling given the critical role that the Caregiver Grant has played in reducing levels of child hunger in South Africa, since it was introduced in April 2020. Research shows that households’ access to the Caregiver Grant has played a significant role in restoring food security to households with no other income sources.
Child hunger increased substantially during the first few months of lockdown, despite the fact that co-resident adults made food sacrifices to try and protect children from hunger. Child hunger rates declined after the introduction of the Caregiver Grant, from 15% of households reporting child hunger in May to June 2020, to 11% reporting hunger in July to August. Even more concerning is the fact that children will be further exposed to hunger in December when the National School Nutrition Programme stops running during the December school holidays at the same time as the effects of stopping the Caregiver Grant will be felt.
Evidence clearly indicates that, in the absence of an increase to the Child Support Grant itself, it would be disastrous to prematurely end the Caregiver Grant, at the end of October. Access to such poverty relief is essential to improve nutritional outcomes of children in a country where one in every four children under five is stunted, and six million children were already living below the food poverty line before Covid hit in March. The Caregiver Grant has also served as the best vehicle to reach the poorest households in SA due to the Child Support Grant being the most pro-poor targeted of all the grants in SA.
This poverty relief should therefore continue until there is consistent evidence of economic recovery and stabilised conditions in households.
We call on the Cabinet to ensure that the disaster relief programme after October does not place women and children at risk of further increased food insecurity and hunger. We specifically call for the following measures:
- Extend the payment of the Caregiver Grant in order to continue supporting women in the poorest households in South Africa. By extension, this will also help to protect the poorest children, who are most vulnerable to permanent long-term negative consequences of food insecurity and hunger, and whose small grants must otherwise be diluted to help feed their caregivers;
- Increase the amount of the Caregiver Grant from R500 to the food poverty line of R585 to at least ensure that caregivers have enough money to ward off hunger;
- Increase the amount of the Child Support Grant from R450 to the food poverty line of R585 so that caregivers can provide for their children’s basic nutritional needs; and
- Similarly, increase the amount of the Special Covid-19 grant to the food poverty line of R585, as the means test for this grant is effectively set at R0 and the food poverty line is the minimum amount of money needed to provide basic nutrition for a month.
Zita Hansungule and Karabo Ozah (Centre for Child Law, University of Pretoria); Paula Proudlock, Dr Katherine Hall and Mbonisi Nyathi (Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town); Christina Nomdo (Commissioner for Children, Western Cape); Dr Maylene Shung-King (School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town); Dr Chandre Gould (Justice and Violence Prevention Programme, Institute of Security Studies); Suzanne Clulow (Children in Distress Network, Kwazulu-Natal); Wessel van der Berg (Sonke Gender Justice). DM/MC