This is how much money the poorest are living on each month in South Africa

Statistics South Africa has published its update national poverty lines for 2019.

Poverty lines are important tools that allow for the statistical reporting of poverty levels and patterns, as well as the planning, monitoring and evaluation of poverty reduction programmes and policies.

The primary purpose of the national poverty lines is to provide a tool for the statistical measurement of money-metric poverty. The lines contain both food and non-food components of household consumption expenditure.

Currently, StatsSA tracks three lines – the food poverty line, the lower-bound poverty line, and the upper-bound poverty line.

  • The food poverty line is now R561 per person per month. This refers to the amount of money that an individual will need to afford the minimum required daily energy intake. This is also commonly referred to as the “extreme” poverty line;
  • The lower-bound poverty line is now R810 per person per month. This refers to the food poverty line plus the average amount derived from non-food items of households whose total expenditure is equal to the food poverty line;
  • The upper-bound poverty line is now R1,227 per person per month. This refers to the food poverty line plus the average amount derived from non-food items of households whose food expenditure is equal to the food poverty line.

The below graph shows how the inflation-adjusted poverty lines have changed from 2006 to 2019.

Living on very little

While the updated national poverty lines help establish a government baseline, they do not accurately reflect the plight of many poor South Africans, who often end up substantially worse off, as they provide for themselves and their family members.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group’s latest affordability index, more than half (55.5%) of the population lives below the upper-bound poverty line.

A quarter (25.2%) live below the food poverty line, the group said.

The median wage in South Africa is R3,300, and each wage supports 3.5 people (R930 per person – or R30 per person, per day). According to Stats SA, of the 7.5 million households in major metros, approximately 28% are living on less than R2,500 a month.

To feed a single person a nutritionally complete basket of food for the month costs between R527 (for small children) to R670 (for very active men). A child support grant is only R420 a month (not enough to feed a child a nutritionally complete meal), and an old age grant is R1,780 – not enough to cover the costs for a family.

This is just for food, and not all the other necessities in life like rent, transport, electricity, education and clothing.

The researchers found that, on top of food, households prioritise the following:

  • Transport (to work, for scholar transport to school, to go to town to shop, and to access public health care services),
  • Electricity (to cook food, keep the lights on, keep warm and for security),
  • Education for children (so children can have a brighter future than their parents experienced),
  • Burial insurance (so that at least in death there can be a semblance of dignity)
  • The repayment of debt because households cannot get through the month on the level of income coming into the home and so servicing debt is critical to secure credit going forward.
  • After these expenses, there are a myriad of other essential expenses which households must cover, not least of all food and domestic and personal hygiene products.

Below is a range of goods and services expenses which households on low incomes may typically be expected to cover.

The cost data is not complete and excludes many potential expenses. Its purpose is however to provide a sense of what some important household expenses cost for households living on low incomes and further provides insight into what level of income households living on low incomes may require to live at a basic level of dignity.

“The tally of the cost of some typical monthly household expenses which households living on low incomes tell us they reasonably expect to cover is R7,624,13 in July 2019,” the researchers said.

“It is clear that on low wages and low grants, these expense costs are well beyond the affordability capacity of most households living on low incomes. Households cut back on food (one of the few expenses they have some level of control over) and take on debt to cover expense shortfalls.


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This is how much money the poorest are living on each month in South Africa