A shocking number of South Africans are living below the food poverty line of R561 a month, the latest Household Affordability Index shows – with more than half the population living on less than R1,230.
The index, compiled by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD), showed that in September 2019 approximately 13.8 million people – or a quarter of the population – were living on less than R19 a day.
As many as 56% (30.4 million people) are living on less than R41 a day, the group said.
While these statistics are across the entire South African population, the levels of poverty are more pronounced among black South Africans, where 29.9 million people are living underneath the upper-bound poverty line.
According to the PMBEJD, the data is most alarming when considering what it costs to live in South Africa, particularly in covering the basics like food.
The group compiled a basic basket of ‘core’ foods, which a household would need each month to survive. This basket was based on the needs of low-income households in the Pietermaritzburg area, sourced directly from the women in those households who do the shopping.
For the core basket, a household would need to spend R1,290 a month, the index showed – which would leave very little for anything else. To feed a family of four a nutritionally complete basket of food, the price jumps to R2,327 a month.
The PMBEJD also noted that there were approximately 12.3 million children receiving child support grants from the government.
However, the value of these grants – R420 a month – is not enough to cover a nutritionally complete diet for children, which is absolutely necessary from proper childhood development.
These baskets range from R526 per month for children aged 3 to 9, to R672 for teens aged 14 to 18, the group said.
Other costs add up
According to the PMBEJD, food costs are only a small part of the picture, with several other costs also being factored in.
“Because of our largely unchanged apartheid geography, the costs of transport to get to work and back home eats away at the value of the low wage, leaving very little money to secure food and other critical expenses,” the group said.
Prepaid electricity costs also are a major household expense. Both services have increased markedly, with costs increasing by 13.07% in July 2019 and water by 9.6% in July 2019. Taxi fares, meanwhile, increased by 7.7% in August 2019.
Some other costs are also deemed by households as non-negotiable – like debt servicing, scholar transport and education and burial insurances, and other important expenses like those of household domestic and personal hygiene products.
“These all compete viciously for the money remaining in the household purse,” the group said.
The table outlines the typical expenses for a low-income family in South Africa:
The PMBEJD’s data showed that the median wage in South Africa is R3,300 per month, while various National Minimum Wage (NMW) scenarios put monthly wages at between R1,350 and R3,200, depending on hours worked.
“In the NMW and Social Grant scenarios most households could not secure food whilst also securing the typically non-negotiable expenses of transport and electricity.
“However, the affordability crisis facing households is worse than reflected in the NMW and Social Grant scenarios because households require a myriad of other goods and services to live at a dignified level,” the group said.
This means that if there is a shortfall on food costs, then for sure the money available to be spent on food will be much lower than reflected in the scenario tables as all other expenses have to compete with the remaining money after transport to work and prepaid electricity tokens have been paid, and only some of this money will be allocated to secure food, it said.