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The impact of COVID-19 on South African Poverty

16th Nov 2022 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm

This paper analyses how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted money-metric poverty in South Africa. Against a backdrop of already rising poverty-levels, the pandemic is expected to have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable population groups. Using the recently released 2020 and 2021 General Households Surveys, this thesis presents the first nationally representative estimates of poverty during the heart of the pandemic and as the country began economically recovering. The comparability of the General Household Surveys conducted telephonically during the pandemic is interrogated. The paper finds that an estimated 2.8 million people entered upper-bound poverty and an additional 1.5 million people were food poor in 2020. The increase in poverty would have been substantially worse without the additional COVID-19 grant top-ups. The 2021 poverty estimates report a dramatic poverty recovery by October 2021, with estimated poverty levels lower than they were in 2019. Even vulnerable groups, like female-headed or black-headed households, experience this fall in extreme poverty. The surprising result is explained by the continuation of the Social Relief of Distress grant into 2021 which provides the ‘working poor’, and large number of South Africans unemployed prior to the pandemic, grant support they were previously excluded from.

About the Presenter

Nuvika Pillay is a young researcher who has completed a Business Science in Economics and Law and has recently completed Masters of commerce in Applied Economic at the University of Cape Town. Currently, she is studying towards a Masters degree in Comparative Social Policy at the University of Oxford.
Nuvika is a Klaus-Jurgen Bathe Leadership Scholarship alumni and a Mandela Rhodes fellow. Currently, she holds the Commonwealth Scholarship to complete her studies at Oxford University. Her previous research interests have explored health inequalities in South Africa and the impact of COVID-19 on informal entrepreneurs in Khayelitsha and Phillipi. Her current research explores how COVID-19 has affected poverty in South Africa.

Zoom Meeting Details
Meeting ID: 959 1541 0955
Passcode: 289776

Lunch to be served at 12:30 in the School of Economics Staff Lounge.


16th Nov 2022
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


UCT School of Economics, 4th Floor Seminar Room
UCT Middle Campus
Cape Town, Western Cape 7700 South Africa


Amy Jephthah