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Major concern as NC residents struggle to feed themselves

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A recent household affordability study has found that residents in the Northern Cape, specifically in Springbok, are likely to have to dig deeper into their pockets for a basket of basic foodstuffs.

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A RECENT household affordability study has found that residents in the Northern Cape, specifically in Springbok, are likely to have to dig deeper into their pockets for a basket of basic foodstuffs.

The study, undertaken by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD), looked at food price data from Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg.

“The deepening household affordability and food crisis in South Africa, exacerbated by Covid-19, compelled us to expand the scope of the Household Affordability Index beyond Pietermaritzburg. We ran a pilot project from April-August and are now able to provide new food price data for Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg,” a statement issued by the PMBEJD yesterday said.

Food prices were tracked directly by women data collectors off the shelves of 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries which target the low-income market. The supermarkets were in Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow (Joburg); Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Delft, and Dunoon (Cape Town); KwaMashu, Umlazi, Durban CBD, Mtubatuba (Durban); Springbok (in the Northern Cape); and Pietermaritzburg CBD.

There are 43 foods in the household basket, which was designed for a household with seven members, the average household size of families living on a low income.

The average cost of the household food basket was R3 783.16 in September 2020.

“This is well beyond the affordability thresholds of families living on low incomes. The National Minimum Wage for this same period was R3 487.68. Now that we have far more comprehensive empirical evidence of the food affordability crisis beyond Pietermaritzburg, it is critical that we act. In the immediate-term, top-ups on the social grants should be made permanent.”

According to PMBEJD it would be unwise to remove the top-ups to the social grants and the special R350 Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant while the cost of goods and services remained as high as they were, and where income levels had not recovered and jobs remained elusive.

“Removing the top-ups now will see families worse off than they were before March 2020. Because most families were not able to absorb the shock that came with Covid-19, removing the grant too soon could act to thrust already very vulnerable households into a situation whereby they may not be able to recover,” it stated.

While the average cost of the household food basket was R3 783.16 in September, the cost of the Pietermaritzburg basket was R3 601.38, the Durban basket was R3 731.40, the Joburg basket was R3 808.26, the Cape Town basket was R3 834.10 and the Springbok basket was the most expensive at R3 989,84.

“The data shows that there is a ±R100 cost difference between Durban, Joburg and Cape Town. Pietermaritzburg is cheaper by a little over R100 and Springbok is more expensive by a little less than R200.”

Between August 2020 and September 2020, the cost of the Pietermaritzburg household food basket decreased by -0.5% (-R17.36). Over the past six months of lockdown (March 2020 to September 2020), the cost of the basket increased by 7.2% (R232.62); and year-on-year (September 2019 to September 2020) the cost has increased by 10.4% (R326.41).

“We believe that the massive spikes and upward trends in the Pietermaritzburg data over the past six months were also playing out nationally.”

The organisation added further that the cost of the core foods in the household food basket continued to be of concern. “The core foods are bought first and ensure that families do not go hungry whilst ensuring that meals can be cooked. When prices of core foods increase, there is less money to secure other important mostly nutritionally-rich foods, which are essential for health and well-being and strong immune systems.

The basket includes maize meal (30kg), cake flour (10kg), white sugar (10kg), sugar beans (5kg), samp (5kg), cooking oil (5l), salt (1kg), potatoes (10kg), onions (10kg), frozen chicken portions (10kg), curry powder (200g), stock cubes (24), soup (400g x 2), tea (250g), white bread (25 loaves) and brown bread (25 loaves).

“When we look at the National Minimum Wage for September 2020, a general worker earning R20.76 per hour will receive a total of R3 487.68 for a full working-day month of 21 days. However, the average cost of the household food basket is R3 783.16.

This excludes transport to work and back and electricity.

“Families who rely on a worker earning at the National Minimum Wage level, or families with a worker in an even more precarious job, or workers who have had a pay cut or who have to work fewer hours or days, or families that rely on social grants or workers who are unemployed will not be able to secure even the basic food that they need and will underspend on food. Families will have to make up the income shortfall through cutting back on their food consumption or finding additional income or credit, but even if they are able to do this, underspending on food will still occur and health, well-being, nutrition, and productivity will be negatively affected.”

The study added that tracking the cost of a household food basket was critical to understanding the financial and economic crisis most South African families faced.

“Food is an essential expense. Everything rests on our bodies having good health and good nutrition. If millions of South African families are not able to secure even a basic basket of food every month, then we must understand the depth of our crisis. The deficit on our plates has major and far reaching consequences but it also serves as an indicator for the emergency we are in.”

It added further that in September 2020, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet cost R695.74. “The Child Support Grant of R440 a month is 25% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 37% below the September cost of R695.74 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet. There can no longer be a justification by government to continue removing more than a third of the foods off the plates of ±12.78 million children. The Child Support Grant must be increased to a level which will allow mothers/caregivers to feed their children properly.”

The top-ups to the Child Support Grant of R500 per mother/caregiver, including the R250 top-up to the Old Age Grant, and the R350 special Covid-19 grant as an emergency crisis response to the coronavirus have, according to the organisation, been critically important interventions.

“The value of the top-ups is not enough to assist households to absorb the shock of income losses and food price increases but they do help. Whilst many of the drivers of higher increases on goods and services (especially food) have now been removed, the cost of the household food baskets for low-income households is still at a very high base. Food prices have not come down off these Covid-19 and lockdown highs, and with the festive season approaching, food prices are expected to rise. At the same time, transport hikes and electricity tariff hikes have come into play which have exacerbated the household affordability crisis. Job losses, pay cuts, fewer days or hours paid work because of Covid-19 and the lockdown, and South Africa’s deteriorating economy, continue to lower income levels.”

The PMBEJD stated that it would be unwise to remove the top-ups to the social grants and the R350 special Covid-19 grant while the cost of goods and services remained as high as they were.

“Removing the top-ups now will see families worse off than they were before March 2020. Because most families were not able to absorb the shock that came with Covid-19, removing the grant too soon could act to thrust already very vulnerable households into a situation whereby they may not be able to recover. It would be prudent to make the top-ups to the grants and the special Covid-19 grant permanent.”

“More is required if we are to help families get out of the devastation that Covid-19, the lockdown, and the deteriorating economy has wrought. Helping families get out of poverty should be another key priority post Covid-19 – this would mean income investment and access to cash, where millions of people will be able to start spending and drive a broad-based recovery in the economy, create their own livelihoods in the absence of jobs, and focus on their families, health, well-being and future going into 2021,” it concluded.