MAJOR SHIFTS IN POVERTY HIGHLIGHTED BY COVID-19 NECESSITATE THE NEED FOR NEW SOCIAL PARADIGMS

South Africa is not experiencing a new food security crisis. This crisis has been with us well before the pandemic reached our shores. However, Covid-19 has ruthlessly unmasked the ugly truth which has been veiled by our social construct – that there is no social safety net for the poor and the hidden face of hunger experienced by millions of people has been largely ignored, overlooked, or trivialised.

A recent Ipsos / News24 survey of more than 52,000 readers show that four in ten readers’ personal finances have been ‘severely affected’ by Covid-19; that 60% of readers have dipped into their savings; and that 35% say that their salary / wage has been reduced since the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group’s (PMBEJD) annual report released in May 2020 indicate that there is a 7,8% increase in food prices since the start of the pandemic in March, which translates into an additional R250 that poor households have to spend to get the same basic food basket. The report also highlights that the year on year increase in the food basket between May 2019 and May 2020 is a staggering 13,8%.

Mounting unemployment, spiralling government debt, disruption of economic activity, negative economic growth predicted for the foreseeable future, a health crisis looming, and an estimated 28 million people experiencing food insecurity paints a dismal picture of our current state of the nation, and necessitates that we start to seriously think about new social paradigms.

When thinking about new social paradigm, there are several scenarios that could help us move towards this. Here are a few:

  1. Government Must Develop Stronger Linkages with Civil Society

Although we have more than 220,000 non-profit organisations registered with the Department of Social Development, sadly, that is where the relationship ends. Government does not have linkages with these charities beyond registration. A good starting point for a new social paradigm could be that government, through the Department of Social Development, grow deeper linkages with registered NPOs, understand what they do, where they do this, how their presence in communities is making a difference, and how government can help them to improve. This can be achieved by compiling a very easy to complete reporting template, requesting salient information and stats, and setting aside budget and a team to help achieve these goals.

  1. Create Multi-Year Social Contracts with National NPOs that Have Scalable and Impactful Models towards Rapid Acceleration of the NPD and the SDGs

This should be the core of the new social paradigm. It is well known and generally accepted that government does not have the capacity to meet all the social needs of impoverished communities. But, with the help and support of well organised civil society organisations and social enterprises, these organisations can act as an extension of government at community level, providing much needed social services within an agreed upon framework with very specific KPIs / outcomes. In this way, government’s National Development Plan (NDP) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be rapidly accelerated.

These multi-year partnerships will require substantial funding, but the return on investment will be well worth it on several fronts (1) Government will be more in touch with communities and are able to be more responsive to their needs (2) Government will be seen as an agent of change / enabler in communities (3) People will view government in a more positive light and (4) since government will be spending only a fraction of the cost had they built this infrastructure and done all this work themselves, there will be a direct saving on the government fiscus.

  1. Government Must Make the Shift from Funding NPOs to Achieve Party Political Ends to Social Investment in Communities to Bring About Radical Change / Development

While national treasury may have the best of intentions when it comes to setting aside huge amounts of funding for NPOs to achieve social objectives, officials that are responsible for the implementation at community level are far too prescriptive and put pressure on NPOs to use the funds for party political objectives. We have seen recently how councillors have been manipulating the distribution of food parcels and making sure that their constituents are cared for first. This notion of ‘its our money and we will tell you how to spend it’ must stop. Instead, officials must regard social partners as valuable resources, able to bring about social justice, social development, and social change.

We find ourselves in a very precarious position as a country at this juncture. The pandemic has exposed the deep inequalities in our society, and the majority of our people will experience severe hardship for years to come. It will take serious structural reforms and fiscal discipline to claw our way back to economic and social recovery.

There is an opportunity here for government to respond to the deafening sound of human suffering by using this opportunity to do things differently – to explore social paradigms with social partners that will bring about the needed change in under-served communities.

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