SA needs a social protection floor to ensure food security…

Almost 6.5 million people in South Africa go to bed hungry at night, the majority of whom are women, according to StatsSA. It is hard to imagine that South Africa, a country that is not food insecure, has a hunger problem.

As a country, there are enough food resources in South Africa, but at the household level, food insecurity is a major crisis. Black Sash recently held a Khuluma — a public debate — on women and food security. Women on Farms Project shared a heartbreaking story of how several of its members report boiling water in pots without food to, at the very least, make their children feel like “the food is coming.”

Food insecurity is a matter of accessibility and affordability. The food is there, the store shelves are full, but people can’t afford it. The vast majority of people living in South Africa are forced to make a daily choice between food and energy. In July, those who made the choice to have power faced hours of blackouts, making what little food they had sour or needing to be eaten much faster than expected.

What people eat is also important, and in the face of blackouts, erratic electricity supply or unaffordable electricity, people have had to make the choice to buy more non-perishable, often less nutritious foods. .

A new approach to food

A research report commissioned by Black Sash, Children, social assistance and food security, found that the Child Support Grant (CSG) as it currently operates is inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of children, with debilitating economic, social and psychological consequences for these children, caregivers and their households.

Although in many respects this problem is partially addressed by the National School Feeding Programme, part of the report’s recommendations is to reconsider the CSG model which provides a basket of nutritional and other basic needs for children. This includes macro-food policies that subsidize the food basket of CSG beneficiaries to ensure food security throughout a child’s life cycle.

This policy must meet the different nutritional needs of different age groups. It should include maternity protection for pregnant women and optimal food support in early childhood development centers and school feeding/nutrition programmes.

The report calls for a Cash-Plus approach to implementing CSG – where each beneficiary and carer not only receives their cash grant, but the grant is formally linked to other essential free basic education services such as ECD, free school uniform, free school transport, etc., but also other free basic services such as electricity, adequate housing, health care, etc. (as opposed to the ad hoc approach we see).

A new approach to social security

Grant recipients should not use their grant exclusively for food. For this reason, Black Sash calls for comprehensive and systematic food supply programs where a subsidy is also supplemented with food stamps, coupons, soup kitchens, food parcels, on-site feeding, etc.

This is part of his broader vision for a comprehensive social protection floor in South Africa. Since so many of our basic needs are interconnected, a comprehensive social protection floor puts in place a minimum basket of needs and resources that a person needs to lead a dignified life. These include the basic human needs of people such as basic services like water and electricity, access to education, food, public transport, etc.

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The National Development Plan called for a defined social protection floor that defines an acceptable or decent standard of living. It states that a social floor is “a multi-pronged strategy recommended to ensure that no household lives below this floor. Problems such as poverty-induced hunger, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies will be addressed. Its approach includes the possibility of social security reforms relating to the informal economy, compulsory pension contributions; and a quota of free municipal services.

At the heart of a comprehensive social protection floor is also the need for cash transfers, ie social grants. The child support allowance and any basic income support allowance must be linked to an objective measure of need, such as the food poverty line (currently R624). Basic income support has now become a food security issue and if we persist with the current status quo – the R350 subsidy – people and children will continue to starve.

A new approach to grants

The R350 Social Relief of Distress grant is due to end in March 2023, marking three years since its inception. Despite its many administrative flaws and the fact that the subsidy is almost 50% below the food poverty line, it has been a lifeline for many. It meant the difference between an empty stomach or not. Food security for the poor must be promoted and protected by both government and civil society. Food must be made accessible to all.

Black Sash has been a strong supporter of the Basic Income Grant for more than two decades and has been a strong advocate for Basic Income Support for people aged 18-59 who earn little or no income. Part of our campaign requests are that :

  1. The R350 SRD subsidy be raised to at least the food poverty line, currently R624;
  2. There must be the establishment of permanent social assistance for people aged 18 to 59, assessed at the upper poverty line, currently R1,335 per month. Caregivers who receive the Child Support Grant must also be eligible for this grant;
  3. Ensure that these provisions apply to eligible refugees, permanent residents, asylum seekers and migrant workers with special permits; and
  4. Work for a universal basic income for all.

In the face of the proverbial “grants are anti-job” rhetoric, it must be said that the overwhelming majority of research has shown this to be a misperception and that people are using their grants to apply for jobs, print their CVs and travel to apply for jobs, etc. This allows people to be more economically active and puts money back into the local economy. Black Sash strongly supports job creation as a solution to South Africa’s economic challenges, but must be complemented by comprehensive social protection, including social assistance for the unemployed and job seekers .

Jobs, however, are not what we are talking about now. As the German philosopher Friedrich Engels said so well, “man must first eat”. Almost three years into the Covid-19 pandemic, its impact has exacerbated unemployment, inequality and hunger.

Community monitoring conducted by Black belt and its partners have found overwhelmingly that grants are used to put food on the table – often not for an entire month but at least for part of the month. It means the time for debating whether we should have basic income support is over, not when the time taken up on the debate means someone else is going to bed hungry. DM

Amanda Rinquest is Black Sash’s National Education and Training Manager.

Joel C. Hicks