COMMENT: South Africa’s poverty and earnings statistics fall sufferer to Covid-19
Let’s discuss counting folks and issues – about surveys. “What?” I hear you ask. “Don’t we’ve extra essential issues to fret about proper now?”
With South Africa in Covid-19 lockdown for practically 4 months and counting, and case numbers and deaths rising, what’s so urgent about doing a survey proper now? We’re not allowed to go to our household and pals – and let’s not even discuss these bans.
However give me a couple of minutes. These issues, I promise.
Finance minister Tito Mboweni delivered his supplementary finances evaluate speech in June, by which he introduced adjustments to the February 2020 finances. The evaluation was attributable to the Covid-19 pandemic. In broad strokes, most departments have had their budgets diminished. Stats SA has misplaced R200 million.
Census 2021 too essential to chop
What does this imply? One thing on the knowledge company has to present.
Statistician-general Risenga Maluleke advised members of parliament that they’d thought-about what to put on the chopping board.
First up was shaving cash from the already “underfunded” 2021 census. They determined in opposition to it: It’s too essential. He’s proper – the census produces important demographic knowledge. It’s particularly useful when interrogating claims concerning the hot-button matter of migration.
Africa Verify used census knowledge to fact-check unsubstantiated claims concerning the variety of overseas nationals residing in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, at a time of nice rigidity following xenophobia-linked assaults in 2019.
The census can also be our go-to when verifying claims about progress, or lack thereof. We used it in 2013 to verify a much-shared declare that the nation had “ten occasions extra folks in squatter camps than in 1994”.
Another choice, Maluleke mentioned, was to unfold the loss round and pinch funding from as much as 11 totally different surveys. However this is able to imply essential schedules of many common knowledge publications could be damaged. They determined in opposition to this too.
Revenue expenditure survey hardest hit
A choice was then made to take R17 million from allocations to worldwide requirements and R33 million from the company’s journey and subsistence finances. To make up the distinction of R150 million, the axe got here down hardest on what is named the earnings and expenditure survey. The problem of conducting face-to-face interviews throughout a pandemic additionally contributed to the choice. In-person interviews are important to the survey.
The survey collects knowledge from round 25,000 households nationally on poverty, earnings, consumption and spending patterns. Scheduled for 2020 and 2021, it has now been placed on maintain.
The information from earnings and expenditure surveys has been integral to our work over time. Problems with race, earnings and poverty are frequent political footballs in South Africa. Common and dependable knowledge helps floor these discussions in actuality in a rustic the place flashpoints are at all times fast to ignite.
The survey has, for instance, allowed us to fact-check claims concerning the distinction in family earnings between the races. It additionally helped us set the report straight on poverty ranges in South Africa when the Mail On-line, the much-read web site of UK tabloid the Every day Mail, reported that 400,000 white folks lived in poverty in South Africa. The survey confirmed it was really round 42,000.
At a time when the pandemic is decimating each livelihoods and lives, knowledge from this survey solely turns into extra important.
Survey outcomes affect essential financial measures
The lack of the survey can even have a knock-on impact on different statistics. Its knowledge would have been used to replace the nation’s poverty line statistics and the objects included within the basket of products used to find out the client worth index, or CPI.
Why do these matter? As a result of the costs of products and providers consumed by South Africans are used to calculate an inflation charge for the entire economic system, a key measure in any nation.
The pandemic has positioned huge monetary stress on nations all over the world. South Africa is not any exception.
In parliament, statistician-general Maluleke mentioned that he understood why funds needed to be reduce. “We’ve to decide on to save lots of lives right here and now within the disaster, or say that we wish to depend folks and establishments.”
However saving lives must also be considered when it comes to making the proper coverage selections, knowledgeable by correct numbers. Stats SA, and the info it produces, is invaluable to the nation, its folks and to makes an attempt to resolve quite a few urgent challenges.
Correct knowledge important to carry authorities to account
Along with the apparent headache posed to correct planning, it can grow to be tougher for civil society and the broader public to carry their authorities accountable for guarantees made and damaged.
And for fact-checkers and the media, it is going to be an uphill wrestle to find out if public statements on essential matters are true or false.
Sadly, we’ve been right here earlier than. In February 2020 BC (“earlier than Covid”) the South African Statistics Council despatched out a Mayday sign. They warned that the company was at a monetary “tipping level”. The R200 million finances reduce will solely compound this.
It needn’t be so. Official statistical companies and the info they produce are an integral a part of democracies. Their work must be prioritised and adequately funded.