South Africa’s poorest can’t afford the R20 a day needed just to eat: Pacsa

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) has published its Food Barometer for January 2018, showing how food prices have changed since the start of the year, and how South Africa’s most vulnerable are coping.

According to data on poverty from Stats SA, the food poverty line (the level below which individuals cannot secure enough food) is at R531 per month and the upper bound poverty line (the level below which individuals cannot secure food and non-food items) at R1,138 per month.

An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015 Report (2017) shows that one quarter of South Africa’s population (25.2% or 13.8 million people) live below the food poverty line; and 55.5% (30.4 million people) live below the upper bound poverty line.

Spread across a month, the food poverty line works out to R17.70 a day. Pacsa’s monthly minimum nutritional food basket works out to between R18.22 a day for children, to R22.92 a day needed for very active adult men.

How much it costs for the basics in SA

Pacsa’s tracker looks at the the monthly prices of a basket of 38 basic foods which households living on low incomes, with 7 family members – the average household size for low-income urban households in Pietermaritzburg – say they need each month.

The nutritional food basket is what the same families would need to ensure they were getting the necessary nutrients to live a healthy life.

For January 2018, the group recorded a month to month increase of 3% in the cost of the normal food basket (not nutritionally complete) – from R3,021.39 in December 2017 to R3,110.95 in January 2018. This is roughly R444 per person per month, or R14.80 per day.

In January 2018, the cost of the Pacsa Minimum Nutritional Food Basket for a family of 4 is R2,401.06, for a family of 5 it is R3,031.48, and for a family of 7 is R4,198.45. This works out to roughly R600 per person per month, or R20 per day.

The nutritional food basket was developed by a registered dietician, and tracks the minimum food requirements needed to maintain health, and ensure proper development in children.

Green: food cost per person | Blue: wage distribution per capita, based on a family of 4

According to Pacsa, poverty levels most affect black South Africans, where stats show that just under 65% of black South Africans live below the upper poverty line.

This is exacerbated by the fact that many households depend on only one source of income, which is often so low that it cannot suitably see to everyone’s needs.

“The wages of 12.12 million black South Africans support 45.66 million persons who live in 13.5 million households. It means that black South African households typically rely on just one wage earner and this wage must support an average of 3.8 persons. For lower income households the wage must spread further,” Pacsa said.

“In this context the level of the wage paid to the employed worker becomes extremely important. Baseline wages for the majority of Black South African workers, when dispersed through a family is a poverty wage. The median wage for Black South Africans is R2,900 a month.

Dispersed through a family of 3.8 the wage is R763.16 per capita per month, or R25 per person per day.

SA’s poverty minimum wage

According to Pacsa, the vast majority of South Africans are earning a poverty wage – and even efforts by the National Minimum Wage are not enough to bring people out of the cycle.

At R3,500 a month, given the demographics of the country, the national minimum wage works out to be R921.05 per person, per month (or R31 a day).

While this is enough to cater to the basic nutritional needs of the average household, it is nowhere near enough to cover other needs, such as rent, school costs, hygiene and sanitation, utilities and many other costs.

Pacsa has maintained that the minimum wage would need to be set at over R6,500 a month to meet the basic requirements to live a dignified life, and ideally at R8,000 to give low-earners access to financial freedoms.


Read: National minimum wage will be reviewed every year

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South Africa’s poorest can’t afford the R20 a day needed just to eat: Pacsa