A group of academics and civil society formations are confident that their call for the government to increase child grants by R500 for a period of six months is valid, given the way the economy is suffering due to Covid-19.
The group, which was organised by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, has since started a petition which has to date received 561 128 of 600 000 intended signatures.
The petition was based on a letter which was endorsed by more than 30 organisations and sent to President Cyril Ramaphosa on 3 April. It calls for child support grants to be urgently increased by R500 for a period of six months.
In the letter, the organisations argue that the measure is important to soften the impact of the lockdown on children and families.
"The lockdown is important to contain the virus, but it will increase poverty and unemployment. 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," the letter reads.
Speaking to News24 on Sunday evening, the Children's Institute's Katharine Hall said the number of signatories was overwhelming and sent a positive signal of support for the call.
She said government should, at this time, as part of its humanitarian relief efforts, rapidly make budgets available and give financial support to households.
Hall said the social grant option was the most effective and efficient in supporting homes, because it was already a system that was set up.
"There's also been work which has shown that, if you top up grants, you're not just reaching children, who of course are vulnerable at this time, but you are also reaching a large number of households which are poor and have also been reliant on income from informal sector work."
She added that, while this form of relief would not reach everyone, because not everyone has a child benefiting from the grants, the topping up at this point would make a difference to many.
The organisations have been engaging the government on the call and believe it needs to make a decision soon, before the next social grant pay run.
"If that doesn't happen, we are really going to have a very worrying level of hunger, starvation, desperation... There is a really urgent need to get cash into households through a safe, reliable vehicle. The best vehicle at the moment is the grant system, because Sassa pays these grants reliably every month, and they go straight to beneficiaries," Hall said.
When asked whether the organisations believed that a R500 increase was enough to meet the needs of households, Hall replied:
"It is the absolute least we can do. We can't go lower than that. There's been suggestions of a smaller increase, [but] it is important to remember that, when we add an amount onto existing grants, those amounts are not just for the children, but for entire households, and they are supporting women who now have an enormous load of unpaid care work because children are not at school.
"R500 itself is very little, but we need to have something, because this is about feeding more members in the households and not simply the children, for which the grant is meant to be spent."