South Africa

Government considering universal basic income grant for unemployed South Africans: Lindiwe Zulu

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu says a basic income grant is back on the table to address poverty and hunger in SA.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu says a basic income grant is back on the table to address poverty and hunger in SA.
Image: Linda Mthombeni

The government is considering introducing a universal basic income grant for unemployed South Africans between the ages of 18 and 59.

Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu said discussions for the introduction of the grant had been put back on the table as a measure to address poverty and hunger in the country.

Zulu was updating journalists on all social welfare related issues and the impact of the lockdown.

She said the basic income grant (BIG) was being considered in view of the mandate of the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa), as well as that of the National Development Agency (NDA) for the “eradication of poverty and its causes by granting funds to civil society organisations for the purposes of carrying out projects or programmes aimed at meeting development needs of poor communities”.

The law also provides for the NDA to strengthen the institutional capacity of other civil society organisations involved in direct service provision to poor communities.

Zulu said as Sassa has a comparatively well-developed infrastructure that reaches far more people than any other agency, the basic income grant would result in most of the country's poorer citizens continuing to access the Covid-19 social relief of distress grant benefits.

“The basic income grant will simplify coverage and ease of grant administration. Granted that our current social security grants’ system does not permit universal coverage, the current proposal will help realise the government’s broader social security reform environment,” she said.

“The BIG will be unconditional, individually targeted and at the level that will lift individual South Africans out of poverty.

“Since we already have categorical grants for children, older persons and persons with disabilities, the BIG will be an income support grant for the population aged 18 to 59, Zulu said the historic and emergent factors, particularly the Covid-19 pandemic, demand that the BIG be introduced within SA's fiscal capabilities.”

Currently, the most vulnerable groups of our population are those between 18 and 24 and between 50 and 59. Targeting these groups first and then progressively expanding to other age groups may be warranted, she said.

Zulu said they were therefore looking at alternative ways to phase it in over time and considering the amount that should be provided, the funding options, the potential economic impact and sustainability considerations.

“At the same time, we do want to say we are very conscious of the public purse and we are very conscious of the fact that the minister of finance is struggling to get the money,” she said.

“We are conscious of that, but we are saying as South Africans we can come together and have a discussion about this — because if we help our people to help themselves, it would be better for the future.”

Zulu said the matter came up in the social development portfolio committee. During those discussions, most political parties supported the idea, she said.

“When all is said and done, we are looking for options to help our people so that the poverty and the hunger that we see every day is eradicated completely from South Africa,” she said.

“I don't think people will see the basic income grant itself [as] adequate, but it's a leverage and something for them to use to go looking for other opportunities.”

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