NEWS & ANALYSIS

Social workers being used as queue marshals - Bridget Masango

Bridget Masango says this while they should have been providing crucial psychosocial services

SASSA supposedly recruits social workers to act as queue marshals instead of providing crucial psychosocial services

08 September 2020

The Democratic Alliance (DA) recently asked the Minister of Social Development, Lindiwe Zulu, about reports from social workers that instead of being employed to deliver essential psychosocial services during the Covid-19 lockdown period, they are being volunteered by the Department of Social Development (DSD) to the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) as queue marshals.

Minister Zulu promised on 11 May 2020 that no fewer than 1 800 unemployed social workers would be recruited to contribute towards the response to Covid-19. During her press conference the Minister outlined some of the intended services of these social workers; “we are recruiting an additional 1 809 social workers to reinforce the current workforce and to provide a range of social work services. This includes timely psychosocial interventions to assist individuals and families.”

In her reply to a DA parliamentary question, the Minister gave a vague answer about 143 volunteers that were allocated to SASSA in Gauteng in July and received training to assist with queries regarding the Special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant (SRD) of R350 at SASSA paysites, as well as ensuring that the beneficiaries maintain social distancing.

While the DA welcomes the efforts in training and deploying these volunteers, the Minister’s answer provides little insight into what happened to the promises of employing 676 social workers in Gauteng alone.

As such the DA will submit follow-up questions to ascertain how many of the 1 809 posts for social workers were in fact filled in the various provinces; how many social workers provided psychosocial support in line with the training they received as part of earning their degrees; and whether the contracts of those social workers employed to provide psychosocial support and other social work services would be extended beyond the initial three-month period.

It is unconscionable that while Covid-19 has ushered such a dire need for social services in almost all sectors of society but more especially to the already vulnerable sectors such as the old age homes, shelters for the GBV victims and the frontline service providers, fully trained and unemployed social workers would be deployed to ensure social distancing at SASSA pay points, a direct renege on the Minister’s well published and welcome announcement.

If these trained social workers were indeed only ever meant to act as queue marshals and assist in answering SRD related queries, even that endeavour fell short as they weren’t provided the proper tools of trade. The Minister, in her reply, passes the buck to the provinces whom she claims could not process the required data in time, resulting in this much needed resource not receiving the equipment to do the work.

The widely publicised claims by the social workers were confirmed by the Minister’s own response, when she says “when the volunteers were recruited, the intention was to provide them with data to assist clients to lodge applications for the relief grant. However, a procurement process has to be followed for this, which is taking longer than initially planned. In the absence of this, the volunteers have been assisted to utilise other channels to support applicants who have not yet been able to lodge applications”.

This dismal failure to utilize such a scarce and desperately needed resource is a damning indictment on the Minister and her department and a clear indication of their lack of understanding of the need and a complete lack of political will to deploy resources where they are needed most – a call the DA has made from the beginning.

Statement issued by Bridget Masango MP - DA Shadow Minister of Social Development, 8 September 2020