Half of South African households are now on social grants – and government wants more

 ·23 May 2024

The number of South Africans on social grants has increased significantly over the last 20 years, rising from 13% in 2003 to just under 40% in 2023.

According to the latest General Household Survey conducted by Stats SA, approximately 24 million people in the country are receiving government grants, mostly in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo.

However, in terms of households, Stats SA estimates that 50% of all households in the country now receive at least one social grant.

The percentage of individuals who benefited from social grants steadily increased from 12.8% in 2003 to approximately 31% between 2017 and 2019 before increasing sharply to 39.4% in 2023.

“This growth was tracked closely by that of households that received at least one social grant,” Stats SA said.

The percentage of households that received at least one social grant increased relatively consistently from 30.8% in 2003 to 45.5% in 2019, before rising to 52.4% in 2020 due to the introduction of the SRD Covid-19 grants.

The percentage of households that receive at least one grant has, since then, declined to 50.0% in 2023.

Grants are the main source of income for almost one-quarter (23.0%) of households nationally.

Grant beneficiaries were most common in Eastern Cape (52.9%) and Limpopo (50.4%), and least widespread in Western Cape (24.4%) and Gauteng (26.9%).

Households that received at least one type of social grant were most common in Eastern Cape (64.9%) and Free State (63.9%), and least common in Gauteng (36.6%) and Western Cape (38.6%).

Stats SA noted that the big jump in social grants to households was due to the special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress grant (SRD) of R350 per month, which was introduced in 2020 in an attempt to offset the impact of Covid-19.

“Since then, the percentage of individuals in the age group 18–59 years who received the grant has increased from 5.3% in 2020 to 12.4% in 2023.

“The highest uptake was observed in Limpopo and North West (both 17.8%), while the grants were least common in Western Cape (3.6%), Gauteng (8.6%) and Northern Cape (8.7%).”

In his State of the Nation Address for 2024, president Cyril Ramaphosa said that 9 million people in South Africa were receiving the SRD grant, though official numbers put it closer to 7.2 million.

Despite this, the president promised to expand the grant, laying the way for a basic income grant to be established in South Africa.

In the months that followed, the SRD grant was indeed boosted to R370—adding an estimated R2.2 billion cost to the economy.

While the SRD grant has only been extended to March 2025 officially, the 2024 budget makes provision for the grant to continue to 2027.

Despite a stagnant tax base of 7.1 million, the National Treasury plans to allocate R266.21 billion to social grants in the 2024/25 fiscal year, amounting to 3.6% of GDP.

The SRD grant was allocated R33.6 billion in the 2024/25 budget, with provisional allocations of R35.2 billion and R36.8 billion for the 2025/26 and 2026/27 financial years.

Treasury projections anticipate an increase in grant recipients from 27.78 million to 28.31 million in the current year.

Addressing Cosatu members that the union federation’s Worker’s Day rally in May, Ramaphosa promised workers that the basic income grant was coming. Questions remain how the grant will be funded and what form it will take.

Read: Basic income grant for South Africa is coming

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter