Business / Business News

Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
4 minute read
30 Jun 2021
4:35 pm

Poor people unable to afford nutritious food – survey

Ina Opperman

Food prices are keeping nutritious food off poor people’s plates which in turn makes them more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Picture: iStock

The cost of the average household food basket has increased by R271.90 (7.1%) from September last year, when it cost R3,856.34, to R4,128.23 in June, according to the June 2021 Household Affordability Index.

Between May and June 2021 the average cost of the food basket decreased by R8.88 (-0.2%). The index, which is run by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok.

Prices of maize meal, rice and flour have declined over the past month, but the price of cooking oil, sugar and sugar beans remained high. Fruit and vegetable price also came down, except for potatoes and onions. Meat prices have increased, as well as the prices of margarine and polony.

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The price of the household food basket decreased marginally, but not in Johannesburg, bringing no relief to struggling households, the group says. “High food prices continue to hurt low-income families and remove nutritious food from the plates of poor people.”

Statistics South Africa’s Consumer Price Index for Food and Non-alcoholic Beverages rose to 6.7% in May 2021, while headline inflation ticked up to 5.2%. “The value of the money we have in our pockets is eroded by higher levels of inflation on basic goods and services. High food inflation is especially harmful for households living on low incomes as these families spend a much higher proportion of their income on food.”

Graphic or food basket

It is important to consider the cost of the foods prioritised and bought first. Core foods are bought first to ensure families do not go hungry. When the prices of core foods increase, less money is available for other nutritionally-rich foods, such as:

  • meat, eggs and dairy for protein, iron and calcium
  • vegetables and fruit for vitamins, minerals and fibre
  • maas, peanut butter and pilchards for good fats, protein and calcium.

These foods contribute 53% of the total cost of the basket and at an average cost of R2,227.18 in April, relatively expensive in relation to the total money available for food.

ALSO READ: Skyrocketing food prices leading to a struggle at the till

Workers struggle

According to Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey, unemployment levels have increased, with the expanded unemployment rate for black South Africans at 47.9% or 10,299,000 people.

Worker wages must now be spread further to support 4.3 people. With low baseline wages and the high cost of food, electricity and transport, workers struggle to support their families even at the very basic level required to function, be productive and be healthy.

General workers earn a national minimum wage (NMW) of R3,643.92. Transport to and from work costs an average of R1,260 (34.6% of NMW) and electricity an average of R647.50 (17.8% of NMW). Both of these non-negotiable expenses take up 52.3% (R1,907.50) of the NMW, leaving R1.736.42 for all other household expenses, far below the average cost of the basic nutritional food basket for a family of four and a food shortfall of 39.3% (R1,123.18).

ALSO READ: Bad news for poor in cost of basic food basket survey

Women and children bear the brunt

The average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R729.05 In June, but the child support is only R460 per month, 21% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and 37% below the cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.

Covid-19 simply exacerbated the crisis of child nutrition, while it is “absolutely critical for South Africa’s future health, education and economic outcomes that child nutrition is prioritised”. The group says the country will face a future health implosion if nutrition for women and children is not dealt with.

The group also warned that high food prices and unemployment can lead to social disorder and social instability as history has shown. It also expects we will again see long queues of hungry people during the third wave of Covid-19.

ALSO READ: Domestic workers still struggle to afford daily life – survey

Call for more help for the poor

The group says the mothers who participate in the price survey say that high food prices have “hollowed out” proper nutrition on the family plate, removing an important line of defence against Covid-19 and other common illnesses for children and women who are more vulnerable to disease.

“It is likely that the long queues of hungry people that we saw in the first and second waves requiring food support will again come to pass because the state has taken away all income support, wages have not gone up, unemployment levels remain untenably high, jobs continue to be lost and food prices have gone up.”

The group therefore called on the government to reinstate the support of the first and second waves and bring back grant top-ups and the Covid Special Relief Grant.