South African Federation of Trade Unions general secretary says government must focus on making basic income grants permanent for 18 to 59-year-olds

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South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has called for the introduction of a R1,500 monthly grant aimed at South Africans over the age of 18 without work.

Vavi was speaking at an event ahead of the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) on Thursday (11 November). Saftu is the second largest trade federation in South Africa, representing more than 21 affiliated unions and over 800,000 workers across the country.

“People are starving and without food. To end this, the state should look to progressively introduce an unconditional universal basic income grant. We need a basic income grant now for those between the age of 18-59 for those who are without a stable income.”

“A basic income grant will boost the economy, creating demand for products and services, and thus creating many jobs. Government must focus on attracting the people back into the economy instead of just foreign investors,” he said. “We demand a basic income grant of R1,500 and further reject the privatisation and commoditization that is creeping into every aspect of our lives.”

Finance minister Enoch Godongwana is expected to provide clarity around the R350 social relief of distress (SRD) grant and the introduction of a basic income grant in his maiden budget speech on Thursday.

The SRD grant was initially introduced to assist South Africans impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown, but the government has faced increased calls to make the grant a permanent fixture.

An estimated nine million South Africans currently collect the grant, which the president recently extended until March 2022.

Data published by the World Bank in September shows that a third of South Africans are beneficiaries of a social grant directly, which rises to close to two-thirds when those who benefit indirectly are included.

The World Bank recommends the basic income grant take the form of a “jobseekers’ grant, targeted at the unemployed. It said that a job-seekers grant, set at R350 a month, could cost R16.2 billion a year.

“The dilemma of the future of South Africa’s social assistance system rests in the opposing pull of these two forces: The limited political appetite for cost-saving reforms and the need to consolidate expenditures,” the World Bank said. “Feasible options for broader reform hence need to balance political will and the need to contain costs.”

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