Ina Opperman
Business Journalist
4 minute read
26 Aug 2021
3:50 pm

Government urged to intervene as massive food-price spikes hit the poor

Ina Opperman

The August 2021 data shows that all baskets increased and that all baskets are now at the highest level since tracking started in September 2020

Picture: iStock

According to the Household Food Basket survey that forms part of the Household Affordability Index created by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, massive food-price spikes hit the poor in the August 2021 household food baskets for Johannesburg, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, where most of the rioting happened.

Massive food-price spikes

The cost of a food basket for August increased by R103.69 (2.5%) to R4,241.11 from July, while the average cost of all household baskets increased by R384.78 (10%) to R4,241,11 over the past 12 months.

From July to August 2021 the cost of the Durban basket increased by R161.60 (3.9%), the Johannesburg basket increased by R143.27 (3.4%) and the Pietermaritzburg basket by R128.33 (3.2%).

The August 2021 data shows that all baskets, regardless of region, increased and that all baskets are now at the highest level since the tracking of prices started in September 2020. The group says the food-price spikes compared to a year ago are frightening as these figures illustrate:

  • The Durban basket increased by R487.92 (12.8%) to R4,228.51
  • The Johannesburg basket increased by R444.26 (11.4%) to R4,331.13
  • The Pietermaritzburg basket increased by R414.68 (11.3%) to R4,093
  • The Springbok basket increased by R503.00 (12.4%) to R4,564.82
  • The Cape Town basket increased by R178.24 (4.6%) to R4,080.72.

The index tracks food-price data from 41 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg (Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow), Durban (KwaMashu, Umlazi, Isipingo, Durban CBD and Mtubatuba), Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Langa, Delft and Dunoon), Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape).

Massive food price spikes hit the poor

The basket includes the foods and volumes poor women living in a family of seven typically try to buy each month. The group says the cost of the core foods prioritised and bought first remains a concern.

Women buy these core foods first to ensure that families do not go hungry while ensuring that meals can be cooked. The core foods are maize meal, rice, flour, sugar, sugar beans, oil, bread, onions, potatoes, chicken portions, salt, stock, soup and tea. These 17 items cost R2,292.98 in August 2021 and has increased by R227.27 or 11% over the past year.

ALSO READ: The fruit of the looting and unrest: even hungrier people

Government urged to intervene

The group says government should intervene now, because the food-price spikes show that households are enduring great hardship. Paying out the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant of R350 as well as The Destroyed, Affected or Looted Workplaces: Temporary Financial Relief Scheme immediately will help to start with.

Although these measures are small and will not solve the problem, the group says it will help while the bigger economic questions are resolved.

“Household living on low incomes and workers earning low wages spend a very large portion of their incomes on food and electricity.

“A 10% food-price spike on basic food and a 14.95% increase on electricity will play havoc with the ability of households to function. For workers who recently lost their jobs in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, as well as families who barely survived during the past two years, these spikes will cause a massive crisis in homes.”

Neither the SRD grant nor the Temporary Financial Relief Scheme has been dispensed yet, but people need emergency relief, the group says.

“The delay in dispensing relief to households and workers affected by the unrest in July 2021 is resulting in unnecessary suffering. The hardship that is being created now keeps the possibility of more unrest alive.”

ALSO READ: The consequences of keeping child support grants below the poverty line

Immediate action needed

The group finds it astounding that government started the SRD grant process from scratch when people could die from hunger.

“The systems are in place, but government is precipitating yet another crisis by its inaction.

“Tensions are escalating between workers and employers because workers do not trust that the monies have not yet been dispensed. The uncertainty surrounding the delays will have consequences for rebuilding. Government must move quickly. The mood on the ground is on edge.”

Women in the affected cities could not shop where they usually do and as a result had to spend more money and more time shopping in supermarkets that do not specially target the low-income market.

Long queues at fewer shops meant that they could not shop around as usual to look for the cheapest prices, while they had to pay more for transport to shops that were still open. This meant that they had even less money to spend on nutritious food for their children.

ALSO READ: Poor people unable to afford nutritious food – survey

Nutrition for children is suffering

In August 2021, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R747.30. Between July and August 2021 the cost to feed a child has increased by R23.59 (3.3%). Over the past 12 months (between September 2020 and August 2021), the cost to feed a child has increased by R51.56 (7.4%).

Although these increases do not sound like much for a middle class consumer, they are very bad for these women. Government increased the value of the Child Support Grant by only R10 in April 2021 to R460 per child per month, which is 21% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 38% below the August 2021 cost of R747.30 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.