How much money the poorest in South Africa are living on each month

 ·9 Sep 2021

Statistics South Africa has published its updated national poverty lines for 2021.

Poverty lines are important tools that allow for the statistical reporting of poverty levels and patterns and 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.

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 R624 per person per month, up from R585 previously (+6.7%). This refers to the amount of money that an individual needs 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 R890 per person per month, up from R840 previously (+6.0%). 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 R1,335 per person per month, up from R1,268 previously (+5.3%). 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 2021.

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 (PMBEJD), approximately 30.4 million people in South Africa live below the old upper-bound poverty line of R1,268. The group estimates that 13.8 million people live below the food poverty line.

The group’s data shows that food prices increased significantly over the past year – rising 10% between September 2020 and August 2021 – far outpacing headline inflation.

The household food basket it tracks to gauge inflation in low-income households recorded a slight increase in price month-on-month in August, and remains at much higher levels than September 2020, when the basket was first compiled.

The basket was tracked at R103.69 (2.5%), more expensive than in July at R4,241.11. Over the past 12 months, the cost of the average basket price increased by 10% or R385. Headline inflation over the same period was much lower, tracking between 3% and 5%.

The basket comprises 44 core food items most frequently purchased by lower-income households, who make up most households in the country. Only six of the 44 foods came down in price; 5 foods had zero change, and 33 foods increased.

These were the most significant changes, where prices increased or declined by 10% or more.

“The maximum wage of R3,643.92 in August 2021 when disbursed in a Black South African family of 4.3 persons is R847.42,” the group said. “This is below the upper-bound poverty line. Set at such a low level, the national minimum wage works to institutionalise the low-baseline wage regime and lock millions of workers into poverty.”

“Small annual increments off such a low base, which do not reflect inflation levels as experienced by workers, including not projecting inflation forward for workers in the entire 2021 term, means that workers on the NMW are getting poorer and poorer each year,” the group said.

Read: Food prices in South Africa have shot up 10% in the last year – this is what you’re paying more for

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