The food basket price for low-income consumers decreased in February, but still costs more than a year ago. Workers earning the minimum wage will still not be able to buy all the items in the basket and will have to forgo the more nutritious items.
Data from the February 2022 Household Affordability Index conducted by women from low-income areas shows that the average cost of the household food basket was R4,355.70, a decrease of R45.33 (-1%), from R4,401.02 in January and an increase of R354.52 (8.9%) from R4,001.17 in February 2021.
The index tracks food prices at 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in low-income areas of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok in the Northern Cape. The group says prices dropped marginally in all these areas for most foods in the basket across most staples, meats and vegetables, except cooking oil, margarine and Cremora.
The average cost of the foods people prioritise and buy first in the household food basket decreased by R35.04 (-1.5%) from R2,338.83 in January to R2,303.78, but increased by R123.14 (5,6%) from R2,18.,64 in February 2021.
Core foods in food basket
The group says it is important to consider the cost of the foods low-income consumers prioritise and buy first. These consumers buy the core foods first to ensure that their families do not go hungry while they also ensure that the meals can be cooked.
However, when the prices of core foods increase, they have less money to buy other important, mostly nutritionally rich foods which are essential for health and well-being and strong immune systems, such as:
- Meat, eggs and dairy which are critical to provide protein, iron and calcium
- Vegetables and fruit which are critical for vitamins, minerals and fibre
- Maas, peanut butter and pilchards, which are good sources of the fats, protein and calcium essential for children to grow.
According to the data, the core foods contribute 53% of the total cost of the basket and at an average cost of R2, 303.78 in February, relatively very expensive in relation to the total money available in the household purse to buy food.
Consumers must buy these foods regardless of price increases, but the high cost of core staple foods means that consumers often have to remove a lot of proper nutritious food because they simply cannot afford it. Expensive core foods therefore have a negative impact on overall household health and wellbeing, as well as child development.
Minimum wage falls short
Low-income consumers do not earn nearly enough to pay current prices and can definitely not afford price increases. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) for a general worker in February was R3,470.40.
For transport to work and back, a worker would pay an average of R1,280 (36.9% of NMW) and an average of R731.50 (21.1% of NMW) for electricity. These two non-negotiable expenses take up 58% (R2,011.50) of the NMW, leaving the consumer with R1,458.90 for all other household expenses.
This means that workers families will have to underspend by a minimum of 51.8% on food this month based on the group’s basic nutritional food basket which stands at R3,029.23 for a family of four.
Workers’ productivity in the workplace and their children’s learning ability in classrooms, as well as whether they have to visit a health centre all depend on the food they eat, which does not leave them with many choices.
Nutritious food for children in the food basket
The average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet in February 2022 was R771.95, with a year-on-year increase of R61.20 or 8.6%. Consider then that the Child Support Grant was R460 in February, 26% below the Food Poverty Line of R624 and 40% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.
Government increased the Child Support Grant by R20 from April 2022, an increase of 4.3%. This increase will move the Child Support Grant of R480, from 26% below the Food Poverty Line to 23% below the Food Poverty Line.