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South Africa’s Covid grant reached 9.5 million and lifted 5 million from poverty? President Ramaphosa’s numbers don’t quite add up

Marking the ruling ANC’s 110th birthday, Cyril Ramaphosa made claims about the reach of the social relief of distress grant – R350 a month for households hit hardest by lockdowns – and its effectiveness in reducing poverty.

  • The president said the social relief of distress grant, temporary aid for poor households hit by financial hardship during Covid lockdowns, had reached  9.5 million people and lifted 5 million above the food poverty line.

  • The most recent data is that the grant reached 8.85 million people in October 2021. There’s no publicly available data to confirm the 9.5 million figure, so the claim is unproven.

  • The claim that the grant lifted 5 million above the food poverty line is based on a report that also assessed the impact of the caregiver grant, and made estimates based on “crude” assumptions. One of the report’s authors described the president’s claim as overstated.

On 8 January 2022 South Africa’s ruling African National Congress celebrated its 110th anniversary. President Cyril Ramaphosa marked the occasion with a commemorative address in Polokwane, capital of Limpopo province.

In the address he said: “The social relief of distress grant has provided vital support for the unemployed during the pandemic, reaching 9.5 million people and lifting 5 million above the food poverty line.”

Are the two claims correct? We checked.

Claim

The social relief of distress grant has reached 9.5 million people.

Verdict

Unproven

On 23 March 2020 Ramaphosa announced a nationwide lockdown to control the spread of Covid-19, requiring most South Africans to stay at home. 

The social relief of distress (SRD) grant was introduced in May that year as temporary relief for low and no income households who experienced financial hardship because of the lockdown. It pays R350 a month and has been extended until March 2022. 

The grant is intended for South Africans who are in such “dire material need that they are unable to meet their families’ most basic needs”. This can include being a victim of a crisis or disaster, being unable to work and the death or imprisonment of the family breadwinner. 

Other relief measures were increases to existing social grants, such as the care dependency allowance provided to caregivers of disabled children, and the child support grant.

SRD grant reaches 6.5 million in July 2021

When asked for a source for the claim, African National Congress general manager Fébé Potgieter said it was based on a factsheet by the Institute of Economic Justice (IEJ), an economic policy and social justice thinktank. 

The factsheet says there were “nearly 9 million applications” for the SRD grant, crediting the number to the most recent report by the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa).  

According to a July 2021 report Sassa commissioned to assess the implementation of the SRD grant, 9,537,077 grant applications were received. Of these, 6,449,916 were approved.

We asked Sassa for updated figures but have not yet received a response. We will update this report if we do.

Recipients rise to 8.9 million in October 2021

The above figures appear to agree with other data, submitted to parliament by the social development department. By August 2021 the number of recipients stood at 6,998,278. By October it was 8,850,442 – the most recent figure. 

This figure suggests it’s possible that the number of recipients could have risen to over 9 million. But we could not find publicly available data to confirm this, so we rate the claim as unproven.

Claim

The social relief of distress grant has lifted 5 million people above the food poverty line.

Verdict

Exaggerated

The state agency Statistics South Africa publishes an annual National Poverty Lines report, which gives three measures of poverty.

The lowest level is the food poverty line. This is based on the money a person needs every month to get the minimum daily nutrition required. The most recent report is from 2021 and sets the food poverty line at R624 a month

The latest Stats SA data on the number of people living below the food poverty line is from 2015. It estimates that 13.8 million people were living in extreme poverty that year. 

Report estimates SRD grant reduced poverty by 2.4 million  

Potgieter told us the claim was based on a 2020 paper, commissioned by the presidency, on social protection in response to Covid-19. It was compiled by the University of Cape Town’s South Africa Labour and Development Unit (Saldru), which researches poverty, inequality, labour markets and social policy. 

The report assessed several government interventions, including the SRD grant and increases to other grants. It modelled their likely effectiveness in reducing poverty.

Ihsaan Bassier is a Saldru researcher and one of the paper’s authors. He told Africa Check that Ramaphosa’s claim was “overstated”. 

The analysis does “show an approximately 5 million reduction in poverty,” he said, but it includes the R500 caregiver grant “in addition to the SRD”. It is not based on the impact of the SRD grant alone. 

The report says that the SRD grant, by itself, reduced poverty by about 2.4 million people. 

‘Crude assumptions’ led to ‘highly speculative’ estimates 

But Bassier added that the report was not a realistic estimate of the actual impact of the SRD grant. This is because it is based on “crude assumptions” about uptake.

One assumption is that the recipients would be the poorest members of society, and include people who “are not formally employed and receive no other grant directly”. The report says this will “likely overstate the poverty impact of the SRD grant, as successful applicants are unlikely to only have been the poorest”. 

Another “major caveat” in the report is that the projection was based on 2017 data. The estimated poverty reduction would therefore be “highly speculative”.

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