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Civil society hopeful for solutions to ‘unfair, unlawful’ exclusion of millions from SRD grant

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Civil society hopeful for solutions to ‘unfair, unlawful’ exclusion of millions from SRD grant

27th July 2023

By: Thabi Shomolekae
Creamer Media Senior Research Assistant and Reporter

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The Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ) executive director Dr Gilad Isaacs is optimistic that legal proceedings on the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant will highlight and secure solutions to the unfair and unlawful exclusion of millions of vulnerable, poor and hungry people from accessing, and benefitting from the grant.

Last week the IEJ and organisation #PayTheGrants (#PTG), through their lawyers at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), filed court papers challenging regulations that unlawfully and unconstitutionally exclude millions of people living in poverty from receiving the R350-a-month SRD grant.

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The SRD grant offered by the South African Social Security Agency aims to provide temporary assistance to individuals and families facing financial hardship.

In a briefing on Thursday, the IEJ noted that fewer people have access to the grant today than at its peak in March 2022.

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Research estimates at least 16-million people should be eligible for the SRD grant, yet, in May 2023, while 14.4-million applied for the grant, only 8.4-million were approved, with 7.1-million people actually being paid.

The organisation said this is a dramatic decline from 10.9-million people paid in March 2022. In addition, the real value of the grant has been eroded owing to inflation.

“Together this constitutes a retrogression of the constitutional right to social assistance. As 93% of grant recipients spend their grant on food, it also negatively affects the right to food,” Isaacs said.

The papers filed in the North Gauteng High Court include 79 supporting affidavits from people directly impacted by these regulations.

Isaacs explained that the respondents named in the case are the Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu and Sassa.

He noted that the court papers outlined the over-broad definition of income used to measure whether an applicant falls below the means-test threshold and the unlawful questions in the online application form.

The exclusionary online-only application process, flawed bank and database verification processes, and a narrow appeals process that excludes relevant new evidence, are also some of the reasons included in the court application.

Isaacs added that an arbitrary exclusion of qualifying applicants when funds are depleted and a reduction in the grant’s value over time, are some of the reasons eligible people are excluded from receiving the SRD grant.

The organisations stressed that an irrational and retrogressive income threshold, and widespread and systemic non-payment of approved beneficiaries were others reasons for exclusions.

“Government’s failure to meet its constitutional obligations has forced our organisations to bring this court case. South Africa’s crisis of hunger and deprivation is only growing. Social assistance is our most direct and effective tool for fighting hunger, and the Constitution demands that government progressively realise the right to social assistance and to food,” Isaacs said.

He said the applicants, alongside many civil society organisations, had repeatedly raised these impediments to access in good faith with government, in meetings and submissions over the last two years, in the hope that they would be resolved and rectified.

He added that, unfortunately, the barriers remained while the situation deteriorated further.

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