The Children’s Institute has written to President Cyril Ramaphosa to appeal for the increase of the Child Support Grant (CSG) by R500 for six months to protect children and families during the nationwide lockdown. The NGO said in a statement that this would mitigate the impact of the lockdown on children and families and the economic shock caused by COVID-19.

The organisation says the lockdown is important to contain COVID-19, but will increase unemployment and poverty.

“International experience suggests that a lockdown is the best response to the virus from a public health perspective, but the economic impacts are devastating for South African households. South Africa already has very high rates of poverty, unemployment and inequality, and the effects of the lockdown on work and earnings threaten to exacerbate all these dynamics.”

The organisation says social grants are an extremely effective mechanism for protecting children and families against the effects of poverty.

Other forms of support withdrawn

The institute says that prior to the lockdown, over 10 million children received nutritious meals through the school nutrition programme and early childhood development programmes. Families are now forced to provide the nutritious meals as schools and development programmes have been closed down due to the lockdown.

The institution says that, because of food price increases, families are forced to buy less nutritious food due to constrained budgets.

“A project that monitors food prices found that the cost of a low-income household food basket increased substantially over the first three weeks of March, as the pandemic unfolded in the country. Over the whole month, the cost of the food basket increased by 7%, or R220. This increase alone is equivalent to half the value of the monthly child support grant. The same report notes shifts in purchasing patterns to less nutritious food.”

The institute also raised concerns with Sassa’s inability to add new beneficiaries to the social grant programme during lockdown because the required verification and biometric requirements cannot be completed.

Complementary measures

The institute has suggested the following measures as a means to deal with social grant challenges during the lockdown.

  • Registration for grants of vulnerable households not already receiving grants, including unemployed youth and adults in households without social grants and new mothers with babies who cannot be registered due to all new birth registrations being on hold during the lock-down.
  • SASSA restructures its payment system, ensuring that grants are transferred into beneficiaries’ accounts in a staggered manner.
  • Subsidising selected highly nutritious foods.
  • Allow informal traders of food to continue to trade, as the money they make will not only increase the ability of poor households to buy nutritious food, but will also help to reduce the congestion in taxis and at big retailers; and stimulate the local economies of townships and rural areas.

Misuse of grants

Meanwhile, in related news, last year there was a growing concern over the misuse of child grants by young mothers in the Eastern Cape.

Research by the Department of Social Development found that child grants are not used for the benefit of the beneficiaries and the trend is escalating.

This was one of the issues raised during the launch of Child Protection Week in East London. There are more than one point eight million people that benefit from child support grants in the Eastern Cape.

The R400 stipend is meant to alleviate the most pressing needs of children from poor families.

But the children do not see the money as it is increasingly being used to finance the lifestyle of young women.

“Research has found that especially young mothers, they do get pregnant because they want this money but many of them often use it for other things outside of what it is meant for,” says Sassa Spokesperson, Luzuko Qhina.

The department is now working closely with law enforcement agencies to criminally charge those who misuse the child support grant.

The department is also investigating cases where mothers leave their children with another caregivers, but take the child grant cards with them.

In video below see a report on the issue which was raised at the launch of child protection week in East London