Outrage as temporary disability grants suspended

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Disability activists in Makhanda have labelled the suspension of temporary disability grants as a violation of human rights.

The South African Social Security Agency has suspended temporary disability grants from the start of 2021. SASSA says the high cost involved, and the need to comply with the law, forced them into this “challenging” decision.

Temporary Disability Grants due to lapse in February 2020 were extended to 31 December 2020 because of the national coronavirus lockdown. At the end of December 2020, SASSA suspended a total of 210 778 disability grants nationally.

Explaining the decision in a statement on 7 January 2021, SASSA said temporary disability grants paid during lockdown had cost the state more than R1.5 billion. Continuing to pay them until the end of March 2021 would cost an additional R1.2 billion.

“These funds are not available,” SASSA said

Permanent and temporary disability grants

A disability grant is given, in terms of the Social Assistance Act, to citizens who are unable to work as a result of their disability or medical condition. It may be awarded as either a permanent or a temporary grant.

Permanent disability grants are awarded for conditions which impact on the applicant’s ability to work for a period longer than 12 months. These may be subject to a medical review after a certain period of time.

Temporary disability grants are awarded for periods between 6 and 12 months for a disability or medical condition that is likely to improve with treatment or other interventions. After this time, the grant lapses, in accordance with the conditions set in the Social Assistance Act, 2004. If the disability or medical condition means the person still can’t be employed when the grant lapses, they need to re-apply for it. This re-application requires a new medical assessment, which will confirm whether the condition warrants a grant.

Serious consequences

Local disability activist Chris Dyokomba said suspending temporary disability grants was a violation of human rights.

“Because all South African citizens are [direct or indirect]taxpayers, they should be all taken care of,” said Dyokomba, who lives and works in Makhanda. “Everyone has the right to have access to social security, including if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants. Appropriate social assistance is part of Section 27 (1)(c) of the Bill of Rights.

“The temporary disability grant should not be suspended, as that would be violation of human rights.”

Social worker at Makhanda’s Association for the Physically Disabled Francine Mwepu slammed the move.

“A disabled person needs this to survive,” Mwepu said. “For many, this is their only income. This is unfair.”

Grocott’s Mail has requested comment from the Eastern Cape Provincial Council of and for Persons with Disabilities and will add this when we receive it.

We have also asked the Department of Social Development’s Sarah Baartman district how many people in the district will be affected by the suspension, and how many people in Makhanda. We’ll share this information here when we receive it.

Meanwhile in a media release yesterday, Western Cape Minister of Social Development, Sharna Fernandez, expressed concern that the move was made as the country’s health systems struggled to manage the Covid-19 resurgence.

“The timing of the termination of these grants has serious consequences for disabled people in our province and across South Africa, as well as for the healthcare system, which is already under extreme pressure due to the burden of COVID 19,” Fernandez said in the statement. “In the Western Cape alone, approximately 52 000 temporary disability grant holders will need to re-apply this month due to their grants lapsing.

“The discontinuation of grants leaves the affected beneficiaries vulnerable and destitute with the added burden of having to undergo a medical assessment, exposing them to the risks of contracting Covid-19. Furthermore, SASSA appears to be struggling with capacity to manage the simultaneous cancellation of so many grants and large gatherings are occurring at some SASSA local offices, which further poses a risk of COVID transmission.”

Fernandez said she had dealt with enquiries not only in the Western Cape but also in the Northern and Eastern Cape.

“The inconvenience caused by the suspension of the temporary grants, particularly at this time, is acknowledged,” SASSA said in its statement. “However, compliance to the legislation and the cost implications have informed this challenging decision.”

SASSA explains how to get your temporary disability grant reinstated

  • Report to the nearest SASSA office, with a detailed referral report from your treating doctor, which confirms the impact of the medical condition or disability.
  • SASSA staff will take your personal and contact details and contact you to confirm when you can return to the office to complete the process. The information in the referral letter will be used to inform the SASSA doctor. They must complete an assessment and recommend whether the grant should be awarded or not.
  • SASSA will look at the medical assessment and also apply the means test to decide whether to award the grant or not. The new award may be for a temporary or permanent period, depending on the circumstances of each applicant.
  • If the grant is awarded for a temporary period, or not approved, you have the right to request SASSA to reconsider the decision. This must be done within 90 days of being informed of the outcome of the application.
  • If the reconsidered decision is still unfavourable, then you have the right to appeal to the Independent Appeals Tribunal. This must be done within 90 days of receiving the reconsidered outcome.

 

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