Many fail to pay bills, want food parcels and worry about education: poll

South Africans worry about going hungry during the lockdown as their ability to earn money decreases. File photo
South Africans worry about going hungry during the lockdown as their ability to earn money decreases. File photo
Image: Anthony Molyneaux

Both low and high income communities feel the government needs to provide more food relief to the poor, but they do not share similar concerns about paying bills or schools reopening during the extended lockdown.

This is according to an online multilingual Covid-19 Democracy Survey by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) conducted in April and May.

Prof Kate Alexander, director at the Centre for Social Change at UJ, said many people stated they were struggling to pay bills and keep afloat during the pandemic, something privileged people handled better.

“A majority of adults said food parcels should be given to everyone who needs them. The parcels initially provided were expected to last three weeks but lockdown has been going on for more. As such, the extension of lockdown was less popular among the less fortunate”

Many people with lower incomes said they had gone to bed hungry during the lockdown.

“About 89% of participants said they were very concerned about the effect of the pandemic on their general financial situation,” Alexander said.

Interestingly, the survey found a clear disparity between the rich and the poor regarding their concerns on attitudes around the regulations.

“People in suburbia were less worried about how serious the rules were taken, while the poor were particularly worried,” she said.

The graph showed that 93% of high-income earners were able to adhere to social distancing but in the case of low- income earners, not so much. This was attributed to the nature of population congestion and poverty.

Because high-income earners had a better chance to access online services and the internet, they were not too concerned about schools reopening.

“This has impacted people’s emotions and level of stress. If we were to avoid people starving to death, it’s critical to provide food to the vast population of SA. This is something we need to address. Schools need to be prepared as quickly as possible for poor people to have access to quality education so they can improve their lives.

“We find that public, peer education could have a big impact on whether people use masks or distance,” Alexander said.

In terms of leadership confidence, the vast majority of South Africans approve of President Cyril Ramaphosa's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, despite growing hunger, loss of human rights and anxiety.

Ramaphosa's performance was rated as either very good or good by 84% of South Africans for the period April 13-May 11. His score was highest between April 27-May 11, coming in at 89%.

Three quarters (78%) of the public are willing to sacrifice their human rights if it helps to control the spread of the virus, the research shows.

Hunger has been increasing during lockdown: in the first phase of the survey (between April 13-18) 33% of the public reported going to bed hungry, and by phase 3 (April 27-May 13) this had increased to 43%.


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