‘Stopping grant top-ups now is madness’ says NGO

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Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD), appealed to government to rescind its decision to stop the top-ups, as this would doom millions to hunger.

The top-ups on old-age and caregiver grants must be retained because the decision to suspend them will have
devastating consequences for the poor and will undermined efforts aimed at achieving economic recovery.

The civil society organisation, Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PMBEJD), appealed to government to rescind its decision to stop the top-ups. It described the move as an “absolutely terrible decision” which would have devastating consequences for household hunger.

Its head, Mervyn Abrahams, said due to the current economic situation, the majority of households faced an  affordability crisis. The situation had dramatically and rapidly deepened over the past few months, as households had no buffers or savings to absorb the economic shocks.

The organisation’s report coincided with a statement from the Abidjan, Ivory Coast-based Africa Development Bank indicating that Covid-19 had increased poverty in African capitals.

The bank funded agricultural initiatives to strengthen food production and security in the continent.

Abrahams said household debt levels had escalated and food prices had not come down off the Covid-19 and lockdown highs.

“Instead, they will continue to rise through the festive season and into the New Year.

“Women are struggling to feed their families.

“The risk of widespread hunger is still very much alive,” he said.

According to PMBEJD, which monitors food affordability per basket, millions of SA families were struggling to
put food on the table, even with the top-ups on old age and caregiver grants.

Its October report showed the average cost of a basic basket of food in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban was R3 916, but the same basket increased by just over R60, or 1.6%, over the last month.

The national minimum wage in October of R3 653 left many destitute after purchasing food.

“How much worse off will we be when the top-ups are removed?

“It is not yet time to remove the top-ups. We are still in a crisis, Covid-19 is still with us [and] the economic situation has not changed,” Abrahams said.

The millions of jobs lost during recent months had not been recovered and many furloughed workers had not been
re-employed. Many children were still not back at school full time.

It was simply madness to remove the top-ups now.

The organisation suggested the establishment of a social security net to augment the system.

“Families, specifically women, need financial support until such time as recovery is possible.

“Government’s economic recovery plan will be undermined if the food and imminent hunger crisis is not dealt with decisively.”

The government must reverse the decision and Finance Minister Tito Mboweni should use his Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement next week to extend the top-ups until at least March next year.

– ericn@citizen.co.za

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