The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity research group (PMBEJD) has published its latest Household Affordability Index, detailing price changes for basic and essential food items across South Africa.
The February 2021 index shows that a food basket consisting of 44 prioritised food items has decreased marginally by 1.2% – or R50 – since January, effectively bringing prices in line with how they were at the end of 2020.
However, price increases have been sharper – around 4% or almost R150 more in the basket – since the index was restructured in September 2020.
According to the PMBEJD, the average household food basket it tracks now costs R4,001 a month.
The basket comprises 44 food items that households in low-income areas have identified as necessary to feed their families in a month.
Households under pressure
In a review of the 2021 budget, the PMBEJD said that while the current food basket is more affordable than in January, almost everything else involved with daily life in South Africa is becoming more expensive.
It was particularly critical of the government’s lack of action over the last year, where families were hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, jobs were lost, and many were left destitute.
The group said that while food prices climbed over lockdown, the government’s response, through the budget, has been to effectively cut – in real terms – grant payments, and ignore the calls for a higher national minimum wage.
The group said that the basket of core foods has increased above inflation (+5.6%), and further price hikes are coming from all sides:
- Fuel levies are increasing by 26 cents per litre, which will have a knock-on effect on prices of all goods and services;
- Electricity tariffs will be going up by 15.6%, with more hikes coming;
- Taxi fares are expected to increase between 7% and 25%;
- Food prices are expected to increase by as much as 10%, given all the factors in play.
Despite this, the government has seemingly gone out of its way to do nothing to help the most vulnerable deal with what lies ahead, it said.
Among all the increases, the national minimum wage was increased by 4.5%, and grants were given a below-inflation increase of 1.6% and 2.2% for the old age and child support grants, respectively.
“Families will, once again, not be able to afford the increases in expenses this year – but this time it is even worse because the government could not even be bothered to set the grant increases in line with inflation.
“This decision will make the most vulnerable people in society even worse off,” the PMBEJD said.
Changing food prices
Over the last six months, 25 of the 44 food items tracked by the PMBEJD saw price increases, 15 saw prices decreases, and four remained the same.
Sugar beans and oranges saw the biggest price hikes – climbing 35% and 24% respectively – while cabbage saw the biggest price drop (-17%).
Since September 2020, the PMBEJD has tracked price differences regionally in South Africa, focusing on major metros like Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, its base of Pietermaritzburg, and Springbok in the Northern Cape, providing a better picture of pricing in more remote areas.
The difference in cost of the total household food basket in Joburg, Durban and Cape Town is consistent at around R150, the group noted.
Springbok and Pietermaritzburg tend to be outliers in the data, with Springbok being highest, and Pietermaritzburg the lowest.