NATIONAL NEWS - Despite significant strides made by government to soften the blow of the COVID-19 pandemic, more still needs to be done to assist the vulnerable as the country faces a risk of resurgence.
Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, and the United Nations resident coordinator Nardos Bekele-Thomas officially launched the COVID-19 Rapid Needs Assessment report on Friday.
The department commissioned the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to conduct a rapid assessment of the COVID-19 situation, with a specific focus on vulnerable groups.
The results have further revealed the deeply ingrained socio-economic challenges such as poverty, unemployment and inequality.
The human impact of the pandemic has been devastating with income loss estimated at between R41 and R53 million for 9.5 million affected formal sector employees, and 2.5 million informal workers and owners of small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs), the report found.
The document also suggests that 740 616 informal workers are at risk of falling below the upper poverty line during the extended lockdown due to COVID-19, while 900 000 households had severely inadequate access to food.
This is in the country where progress had been decelerating since 2008 and 55% of the population (30.9 million) are already living in poverty.
“The country will need to prepare for the long haul,” the report cautioned.
The Minister has since welcomed the report, saying that strategic targeting intervention in required.
“We must be in the forefront to ensure that this report doesn’t end up in the shelves gathering dust,” she added.
She said the key takeaway is that strategic targeting of intervention is required to address the needs and is pleased that the study has costings that government would consider.
“Government, communities and individuals in society also need to take responsibility,” she told the media.
Zulu said the world might face another pandemic and government needs to prepare for such shocks in the future.
“COVID-19 just landed on us. We had to step up, and there were steps taken by our government as led by President Cyril Ramaphosa to make sure that we respond adequately in the best way that we can.”
She acknowledged that there were weaknesses in the process in terms of the government and budget challenges.
However, Zulu said the country is resilient and believes that more people benefited by the financial support package.
“The study comes at an opportune time when our economy opens up and it will help inform our thinking and contribute to evidence- needed for our decisions.”
The Minister has also pledged her support to women who suffer gender-based violence and femicide.
R500 billion social and economic support package
The UNDP has praised government for its “impressive” R500 billion social and economic support package.
The key recommendation includes raising the COVID-19 Relief Grant, which has been extended to January, from R350 to at least R560 per month.
“Considering the cost of the food basket, even at the food inflation rate of 4%, access to food by households affected by unemployment and income loss will be significantly constrained, including those who receive R350,” the report explained.
According to the UNDP, the R350 is below the country’s food poverty line of R561, while the household food basket increased by 7.8% (R250) between March and May 2020.
This means families living on low incomes may be spending 30% (R974) more on food.
The organisation is also proposing the expansion of this targeted group from eight to 10 million unemployed people not receiving any form of grants.
Meanwhile, UNDP wants the allocation of the R500 Child Support Grant (CSG) top-up that is ending this month to be per child rather than per guardian.
Government’s temporary relief against food insecurity increased CSG by R300 in May and R500 between June and October, while other grant recipients were topped-up with R250 for six months.
Children are deemed as a highly vulnerable group, while COVID-19 puts them at risk of malnutrition through household income loss and break in the nutrition programme when schools were closed to limit the spread of the virus.
They are also prone to diseases of deprivation, interrupted access to vaccination and routine medical services, abuse from caregivers who are themselves under greater stress and loss of grandparental care where grandparents are caregivers.
Grants are described as the second most important source of income (45%) for households after salaries (64.8%) and the main source of income for almost one-fifth (20%) of households nationally.
“The increase in grant allocation and the introduction of the COVID-19 Distress Grant are critical measures adopted by the government to help those most in need.”
Meanwhile, the UNDP wants no one to be left behind and urges government to ensure equal access to services for all - including refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
“Such services include social, food and livelihoods distress relief and shelter, emergency medical treatment and psychosocial support.” – SAnews.gov.za