University of Johannesburg: Quality of Life in Gauteng declines amidst pandemic – study

​The Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) established in 2008 as a partnership between the University of Johannesburg (UJ), the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Wits) and the Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG), released the results of the latest iteration of the Quality of Life Survey 6 2020/21 attended by Gauteng Premier David Makhura on Thursday, 9 September 2021.

The QoL 2020/21 findings show an overall Quality of Life Index score of 61 out of 100. This represents a substantial decline from 64 out of 100 in the previous survey, conducted in 2017/2018.

The GCRO is a research institute that helps build the knowledge base to make the Gauteng City-Region competitive, spatially integrated, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive. It is a partnership between Gauteng Provincial Government, University of the Witwatersrand, University of Johannesburg, and organised local government in Gauteng (SALGA-Gauteng).

GCRO has conducted Quality of Life (QoL) Surveys every two years since 2009. It defines quality of life broadly and looks below the surface of how Gauteng residents live, to understand their experiences, perceptions and challenges. The survey considers living conditions, socio-economic circumstances, self-reported health and well-being, psychosocial attitudes and beliefs, and perceptions of government, service delivery and local challenges. The findings inform Gauteng City-Region strategic planning and policy.

Mr Rashid Seedat, Executive Director of GCRO, says: “There is no doubt that 2020 and 2021 will go down in the history of the world as an extraordinary period. The results of the survey reflect the mood of a City-Region confronted by a new, uncertain and challenging social and economic reality brought about by the pandemic.”

The final QoL 2020/21 dataset records the lived experiences of 13 616 of Gauteng’s residents. Participants were randomly sampled in each ward of the province. Data was collected by a team of dedicated fieldworkers from October 2020 to May 2021. Starting just five months after SA’s first hard lockdown in March 2020, data collection spanned the second peak of COVID-19 infections in early 2021 and varying levels of lockdown.

The QoL 2020/21 Survey balanced questions used in previous survey iterations with new content. New content included the impact of COVID-19, social mobility, and experiences of violence. The project explored the quality of life for Gauteng residents across 12 major themes:

The impact of COVID-19 (NEW)
Poverty, inequality and social mobility (NEW)
Hunger and food security
Experiences of violence and safety (NEW)
Community and social attitudes
Migration and moving home
Basic service access and satisfaction
Environment and extreme events
Quality of Life and well-being
Some other key findings from the detailed presentations made at the online launch included:

Economic impact: The economic impacts of the pandemic are extreme, with many respondents reporting reduction in salaries and working hours, as well as job losses.

Grants and social support have provided some crucial protection to the most vulnerable.

However, in general, the most advantaged have experienced the least economic fallout, while Black African respondents and those with lower levels of education have been hit hardest.

Social fabric: The data show evidence for substantial, and growing, psycho-social distress. Levels of crime are high, and issues of safety and security are of great concern to residents. Residents of the province are exposed to high levels of violence in their lives. Over half of adults report experiencing physical or sexual abuse before the age of 18. One in five men have experienced physical violence over the past year, and five percent of women have experienced intimate partner violence. Self-reported health has worsened, and a higher proportion of respondents are at high risk of depression, showing some decline in mental health.

However, there is also evidence for strengthening social fabric, particularly at local levels, and even growing tolerance. Nonetheless, positive shifts are not evenly distributed across the population.

Service delivery: There is relative stability in the delivery of many basic services, and relatively high satisfaction with government response to COVID-19.

But many residents feel let down, even abandoned, by government. Government satisfaction has been deeply, negatively affected.

Quality of life: The QoL 2020/21 data highlights an overall decrease in well-being since 2017/18. This decrease is seen across almost all of the seven dimensions of the Quality of Life Index, with the most substantial reductions in the dimensions of governance and socio-economic status.

While Quality of Life Index scores have fallen for all population groups, Black Africans are the only population group whose scores have fallen below 2013/14 levels.

“While we cannot demonstrate causality, our longitudinal data enable us to assess where shifts in responses have coincided with the arrival of the pandemic, and where they are a continuation of trends pre-dating the pandemic,” says Seedat.

Along with the third peak in COVID-19 infections, the violence, looting and arson that engulfed Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal in early July 2021 took place following the completion of data collection. The impact of these events is not reflected in survey results.