This is why handing out more social grants is a bad idea

Dependence on state-provided welfare should not be a replacement for work, because it undermines individual responsibility and the inherent freedom that comes with earning a living.

News that the Department of Social Development is planning to increase the threshold  of qualification to the Social Relief of Distress grant is worrying. Here is why.

In a media statement the Department noted that of the 11.4 million applicants for the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, 60% were under the age of 35 and only 5.2 million were approved. To increase the number of applications and beneficiaries of this grant, the Minister, Lindiwe Zulu has published regulations for public comment to amend the qualification threshold from R350 to the food poverty line of R624 in an effort to allow as many South Africans as possible to benefit from social assistance. The nominal amount will stay R350. 

The South African Government has an entire suite of employment programmes aimed at reducing unemployment, and specifically youth unemployment. These include the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI), which includes the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) and Operation Vulindlela, plus the Youth Employment Service (which ironically makes the acronym YES). According to the latest available data for the Presidential Employment Stimulus, the program has created a combined 857 833 jobs and “supported livelihoods” out of a target of roughly 1.25 million for Phase One, which is planned run over into the 2022/23 financial year. Currently, it is only achieving 69% of its total target at a cost of R12.6 billion.

Given the horrifying statistics compiled by the Institute of Race Relations, which shows that roughly 45% of people aged between 15 and 34 are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET),  the President’s flagship programme is underperforming, and massively so. What will the President and his employment initiatives do to increase opportunities and decrease reliance on an already overstretched social spending budget?

Increasing the threshold directly has an impact on the amount of money that National Treasury is forecast to fork out for increased social spending. This will have knock-on effects on service delivery and other parts of society. The Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, announced in February this year that this grant will cost the government R44 billion for the 2022/23 financial year. Increasing the threshold will negatively impact the cost forecast, and directly have an effect on the South African taxpayer, who is already under stress due to widespread state failure in service delivery and the cost-of-living crisis.

Our youth should not have to rely on social assistance; they should have a reasonable expectation of finding work opportunities. The government would be better advised to direct its efforts towards providing job and skills development opportunities, with liberalised labour regulations to allow our youth their #FreedomtoEARN.

The Department of Social Development, instead of trying to increase access to social assistance, should be working hand-in-hand with reformed youth employment initiatives in combatting youth unemployment and ensuring that South Africans’ dignity is upheld by providing much-needed opportunities.

Dependence on state-provided welfare should not be a replacement for work, because it undermines individual responsibility and the inherent freedom that comes with earning a living.

National Government needs to prioritise the youth’s #FreedomtoLEARN and their #FreedomtoEARN. Doing so will allow the country and its people to benefit from a rejuvenated, energetic and young workforce that is happy and willing to contribute to economic growth. Give youth the freedom so that their contribution to society need not be measured by the level of poverty or income inequality, but by their own success.


Cover image source available here.