May 2020 Household Affordability Index PMBEJD

PMBEJD: Research Report 26 May 2020 & May 2020 Household Affordability Index


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The report is based on food price data in Pietermaritzburg (with comparisons between pre-lockdown March 2020 and May 2020) and conversations with women in queues and in supermarkets.  This month we are also able to test and verify some of our findings more broadly to get a sense of an expanded picture in other areas of South Africa.  (6 page paper + 1 page data). Please note that any research from the ground during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown is not going to be as rigorous as it should be.  Our observations are limited. 

Covid-19:  Families living on low incomes may be spending 30% more on food than they did two months ago.

Whilst the price of foods in the supermarket trollies of families living on low incomes continues to increase, with the Household Food Basket having increased by 7,8% (R250) between March 2020 and May 2020, these increases pale into insignificance because women are now having to buy more food. Lockdown restrictions have meant that with children and workers at home, food runs out quicker (after two weeks) and women can no longer shop around for the cheapest prices. Our research suggests that families living on low incomes may be spending 30% (R973,93) more on food in May 2020 than they did two months ago.  Government’s decisions on responding to the pandemic via hard lockdown and the specific regulations related to these, is impacting on, and changing expenditure patterns and consumer behaviours of households living on low incomes very significantly. 

Our research further finds that with wages/income having been suspended for many workers and insufficient top-ups on social grants, women, with no savings buffers, are having to take on higher levels of debt, primarily through loan sharks (at interest rates of 40%), to absorb some part of the food shortfalls (‘only some’, because a lot of the shortfall is not absorbed and households are experiencing hunger and longer periods of nutritional deprivation).  This means that not only are households having to spend more on food, but they are having to borrow money to buy this food.  And at very high interest rates.  Whilst our data is localised, it is not unlikely that this picture is playing itself out in textured variations across South Africa.  Our findings point to the need for a massive restructuring of response, and raise very serious questions regarding the adequacy of government’s interventions to help South Africans during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly as financial shocks will continue even as government moves to ease lockdown restrictions.

The report covers the following: 

1.     The cost of the PMBEJD Household Food Basket.

2.     Women are buying more food and this food costs more than it did before.

3.     Where is the money coming from to buy more food?

4.     What difference has the top-up in social grants made?

5.     Expect deeper levels of hunger and desperation unless we change course.

6.     Some concluding remarks.        

Research Report

May 2020 Household Affordability Index

For more information or media enquiries on the research report, please contact Julie Smith on 072 324 5043 or at 

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