The government is re-considering implementing a Basic Income Grant (BIG) to replace the COVID-19 R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant, Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu has said.
The R350 SRD was introduced in April last year to cushion society’s most vulnerable from the impact of COVID-19. It is however set to end in April after being extended twice.
Basic Income Grant ‘not about politics’
Speaking during a virtual mini-plenary debate in Parliament on Friday (12 March), Zulu said the BIG is not about playing politics, but is about responding to the needs of the poor.
“This is a time for me as the Minister of Social Development, my department and entities to get the necessary support from government departments and all spheres to move beyond discussion and policy proposals,” she explained.
Zulu agreed with MPs who had said it was no longer a question of whether or not to introduce a BIG, but of how, when and “who do we bring on board to make sure that this discussion moves beyond being just a discussion.”
She also denied claims by some opposition MPs that the ANC is reviving Basic Income Grant talks as an electioneering tool, saying discussions started as soon as government introduced the SRD grant last year.
“I put it to this mini-debate and this House today that there was no thinking of any election at that point in time, but only a thinking of what can we do and do better for the people of South Africa, especially those we call the ‘missing middle,'” she emphasised.
Zulu cited Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s remarks in Parliament recently that the government cannot afford to have so many poor and unemployed people “without responding.”
She added, “The issue of whether we can afford it or not – our approach as a department is [that] we should be asking, ‘Can we truly afford to have people who go to sleep hungry, to have so much unemployment and to have a missing middle?’
“The most important thing to do now is to find pathways towards introducing the Basic Income Grant. It is for us to mobilise for a social compact so that we can be able to implement it. Government alone cannot implement it. We need to work together – private, public [and] a people-centred approach.”
The ANC first agreed to explore the feasibility of a BIG during a meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) in July last year. In October, President Cyril Ramaphosa told Parliament that while government was not yet able to afford the grant, discussions should continue.
In March this year, the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities also launched the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2020-2030 which calls for a BIG.