Statistics South Africa’s recently updated Food Poverty Line is now R624 per capita per month. The Child Support Grant of R460 per child per month (including the emergency SRD R350 grant) is now 26% to 44% below the Food Poverty Line. Every year our poverty indices get worse. The arithmetic is simple, the Food Poverty Line is adjusted annually using the Consumer Price Index’s Food Inflation figures whilst the Child Support Grant (CSG) is adjusted seemingly as per the state’s whims (and it is unknown on what basis the SRD value of R350 was chosen). The CSG has lost value over the past several years. It is pegged far below the actual cost required to feed a child properly. This suggests that the key instrument to directly support our children, and to reduce poverty and inequality in South Africa is being slowly marginalised and perhaps abandoned by South Africa’s leaders.
It seems to us that we are now in danger of losing a key instrument in reducing poverty and inequality amongst ±two-thirds (30 million) Black South Africans who live in desperate poverty and for whom the last 27 years of democracy has yielded far too little improvement. We have in the Child Support Grant a proven instrument, even at low levels, to effectively improve health, well-being, education, health, social, political, and economic outcomes. If we lose such a critical tool in the efforts to reduce poverty and inequality, we must recognise that we have nothing else on the table to replace it.
This report explores what the adjusted Food Poverty Lines mean for us as ordinary citizens to make sense of a reluctant state who sees welfare as a burden to the fiscus, whose tone towards those who require assistance is really quite unacceptable, and importantly where our 12,8 million children whose lives are so tentatively held in the hands of the state may be headed.
It further provides some commentary on what should be looked at in the upcoming wage negotiations to achieve a healthier, and productive workforce, whilst reducing workplace instability and improving our economic trajectory.
Key data from the September 2021 Household Affordability Index
The September 2021 Household Affordability Index, which tracks food price data from 44 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), shows that:
- In September 2021: The average cost of the Household Food Basket is R4 219,48.
- Month-on-month: The average cost of the Household Food Basket decreased by R21,64 (-0,5%), from R4 241,11 in August 2021 to R4 219,48 in September 2021.
- Year-on-year: The average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R361,14 (9,4%), from R3 856,34 in September 2020 to R4 219,48 in September 2021.
Statistics South Africa’s latest Consumer Price Index for August 2021 shows that Headline Inflation is 4,9%, and for the lowest expenditure quintiles 1-3, it is 6,6%, 6,2% and 5,5% respectively. CPI Food inflation is 7,4%. Food inflation is very high both by the CPI and by the PMBEJD data. PMBEJD data tends to run higher than the CPI data because we only track foods typically bought by low-income households, which means that our basket of foods is much smaller, and we only track prices from supermarkets and butcheries that target the low-income market within a limited geographical area, and so our scope of data collection is also much smaller. Our data is therefore not comparable, however the trends in both CPI Food Inflation (7,4%) and the PMBEJD Household Food Basket (9,4%) is consistent in showing an upward trend in higher food price inflation.
The September 2021 Household Food Baskets have softened. This is off the August 2021 high, caused in part, by the unrest in July 2021 in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. However, the drop in prices of Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Joburg are far less than the spikes recorded in August 2021. For example, the Joburg food basket declined by -2% (R88,60) in September 2021, after increasing by 3,4% (R143,27) in August 2021. The Durban food basket declined by even less, by -0,4% (R17,55) in September 2021, off its 3,9% (R161,60) spike in August 2021. The Pietermaritzburg basket, similarly, to Durban, only declined by -0,4% (R14,70), off its August 2021 spike of 3,2% (R128,33). So, whilst, these baskets have come down in September 2021, they are still showing the impact of the July unrest.