Black Sash calls for urgent action to fix child hunger

More than ever, we need a Universal Basic Income Grant

By Amanda Rinquest

12 September 2022

Children waiting to be fed in Lavender Hill. Archive photo from 2019: Brent Geach

Almost 6.5 million people in South Africa go to bed hungry at night. The majority of them are women, according to StatsSA. It is hard to accept why South Africa, a country that is not food insecure, should have a hunger problem; there are sufficient food resources, yet at the household level, food insecurity is a crisis. It is an issue of accessibility and affordability. The food is there, the shop shelves are full, but people cannot afford to purchase it.

Black Sash recently held a khuluma (a public discussion) on women and food security, where the Women on Farms Project shared the harrowing story of how several of its members boil water in foodless pots to give their children the sense that “food is coming”.

The vast majority of people living in South Africa were already forced to make a daily choice between food and energy. Then in July, stage 6 load shedding, meant people had to consume what little perishable food they had sooner than intended. Faced with rolling blackouts and unaffordable electricity, people have had to make the choice to buy more nonperishable, often less nutritious food.

A better approach to food assistance

A Black Sash commissioned research report, Children, Social Assistance and Food Security (December 2021), found that the Child Support Grant (CSG) as it currently functions is inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of children, with extremely negative consequences for their social and psychological well-being.

The National School Feeding Programme only partially addresses the issue. The report recommends the CSG model be reconsidered, and macro-food policies subsidise the food basket of CSG recipients to ensure food security throughout the stages of life of a child. It ought to include maternity protection for pregnant women, and optimal food support in early childhood development centres, as well as a school feeding and nutritional programme.

The report calls for a “cash-plus” approach to the CSG, where the cash grant is linked to free early childhood development care, school uniforms, scholar transport, and other free basic services such as electricity, adequate housing, health care, as opposed to the current ad-hoc approach.

Comprehensive Social Protection

Grant beneficiaries should not have to use their grant money exclusively for food. This is why Black Sash is calling for comprehensive and systematic food provisioning programmes, where a grant is also supplemented by food vouchers, coupons, soup kitchens, food parcels, onsite feeding and so forth.

This is part of its broader vision of a Comprehensive Social Protection Floor in South Africa. Because so many of our basic needs are interconnected, a comprehensive plan sets in place a minimum basket of resources a person needs to live a dignified life. These include people’s fundamental human needs – water, electricity, access to education, food, public transport.

The National Development Plan (NDP) called for a defined social protection floor which outlines 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” to address “poverty induced hunger, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies”.

The NDP approach includes the possibility of social security reforms relating to the informal economy, mandatory retirement contributions, and a quota of free municipal services.

Basic Income support

At the heart of a comprehensive Social Protection Floor, the need for cash transfers through social grants remains. Both the Child Support Grant as well as a possible Basic Income Support Grant 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 – a R350 grant– children will continue to starve.

The R350 Social Relief of Distress Grant is set to end in March 2023, marking three years since its inception. Despite its many administrative flaws, and the fact that the grant is almost 50% below the food poverty line, it has been a lifeline for many. It has meant the difference between an empty stomach or not.

Black Sash has for more than two decades been a strong proponent of the Basic Income Grant and strongly advocated for Basic Income Support for people of 18 to 59 years who earn no or little income.

Part of our campaign demands are that:

Black Sash strongly supports job creation as a solution to addressing the economic challenges of South Africa, but it must be complemented by comprehensive social protection, including social assistance for the unemployed and for job-seekers.

Contrary to the “grants are anti-job” rhetoric, the overwhelming majority of research has shown this to be a false perception, and that people do use their grant to help them apply for jobs. It allows people to be more economically active and puts money back into the local economy.

Jobs, however, are not what we are talking about now. As Engels so aptly put it “mankind must first of all eat”. Almost three years since the start of the Covid pandemic, its impact has exacerbated unemployment, inequality, and hunger.

Community Based Monitoring conducted by Black Sash and its partners has overwhelmingly found that social grants are used to put food on the table – often not for a whole month but at least for part of the month. This means that the time for debating whether we must have basic income support has passed.

Amanda Rinquest is national education and training manager at Black Sash

Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp