Monday, 13 December 2021

Pretoria: A team of experts on Basic Income Support (BIS) has recommended that government gradually implement a basic income grant, starting with the existing COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant being institutionalised and forming a platform for an expanded system of BIS.

The expert panel was established as part of an International Labour Organisation (ILO) initiative, together with the Department of Social Development (DSD), to examine the salience and feasibility of Basic Income Grant options for South Africa.

Presenting the report during a webinar on Monday, panel chair, Professor Alex van den Heever, said if implemented carefully and incrementally, the panel believed that what they have proposed will not incur severe trade-offs in relation to competing social programmes, economic sustainability and the fiscal position of government.

“Income support in the form of a BIS framework for adults is necessary and no alternative measures could reasonably address the widespread and urgent income support needs of the relevant adults.

“We also found that structural changes in the levels of poverty and inequality require programmes implemented at scale. But given the prevailing fiscal and economic realities, we therefore propose that a phased approach to the implementation of BIS be considered, which recognises that the pace of moving to scale is contingent on being able to finance these expansions in a sustainable manner,” Van den Heever said.

He said the panel did, however, find that the Social Relief of Distress grant introduced, as part of the COVID19 package, involves manageable trade-offs in relation to the important advantages offered.

“We therefore recommend that the existing COVID-SRD be institutionalised and form the platform for an expanded system of Basic Income Support, which can then be improved incrementally over time,” he said.

Van den Heever said the panel views money incomes as a key to thriving societies.

“Without access to money incomes, the resulting social exclusion is severe, disabling and harmful to agency. This harm extends to dependents who are not expected to form part of labour market. Through our work, we confirm that income poverty in SA is so pervasive that more than half households live in poverty.

“All households in the lowest deciles fall below the food poverty line equivalent to a monthly value of R595 in 2021. Over 90% of houses living in decile three are below the poverty line, equivalent to a monthly value of R860,” the Professor said.

Delivering her remarks during the webinar, Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, said that the Expert Panel Report on BIS forms an important element of the department’s ongoing efforts to institutionalise Basic Income Support.

She said the panel’s report reinforces the need to invoke both courage and science to sustain an intelligent dialogue on Basic Income Support.

“When delivering this year’s Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture, President Cyril Ramaphosa challenged us to be brave when speaking about these matters.

“Sooner rather than later, dialogues must come to an end and piloting and implementation must start to define the reason we started this conversation just over 20 years ago,” the Minister said.

In light of the fiscal constraints, the Minister said this is the best opportunity for the report to demonstrate how legitimate BIS can be innovated to protect those who need it, namely those between the ages of 18 and 59.

“It is in this context that our efforts must be targeted at improving the state of the people where they live. I am pleased to receive the Expert Panel Report on Basic Income Support today. This report is now an integral part of our policy engagement arsenal.” Zulu said.