A bleak year awaits poverty-stricken households battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, says the Pietermaritzburg economic justice and dignity group (PMJED) following finance minister Tito Mboweni’s 2021 budget speech.
However, the group’s programme director, Mervyn Abrahams, says the February 2021 Household Affordability Index is indicative of some relief on families given the reopening of schools nationwide.
Despite this, mothers and now pensioners struggle to feed their families following the announcement of increased increments on the child support grant and old-age grants.
The index tracks price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok in the Northern Cape.
“Not ensuring that mothers can feed their children properly means that South Africa’s next generation of adults and workers follow their parents into the inter-generational poverty trap,” says Abrahams.
He believes this trap will handicap South Africa’s future economic growth.
Household food basket
Over the past six months, from September 2020 February 2021, the average cost of the household food basket increased by R144,84 (a 3,8% increase).
With a national minimum wage of just more than R3 300 per month most workers are not paid anything close to that which could reasonably be described as a living wage, Abrahams says.
“The 4,5%-increment works out to be 93 cents an hour, R7,44 for an eight-hour day, and if the full working-day month is worked, a R148,80 monthly increase.
“The annual increment and the baseline national minimum wage are not enough for workers and their families for the 2021 term.
“The additional 93 cents per hour is likely to be gobbled up by the across the board increases in the cost of essential goods and services this year. Millions of South African workers will likely be poorer this year than they were last year,” Abrahams adds.
Pensioners and children hit the hardest
Furthermore, Mboweni announced that the old-age grant is set to be increased by 1.6% (R30 per month), while the child grant will be increased by 2.2% (R10 per month).
According to the PMJED findings at least 3,67 million pensioners are reliant on grants.
“They use this money directly in the economy and support not only themselves but children, and family members who receive low wages or who have lost their jobs,” Abrahams explains.
The child support grant has been increased to R460 – that is 21% below the food poverty line of R585.
“Not ensuring that mothers are able to feed their children properly is a direct form of everyday violence against women and children,” Abrahams adds.
He believes the intentional underspend on the child support grant is quite shocking.
“The evidence is stark that children are suffering from hunger and undernutrition, especially as this comes on top of the historical stunting levels where approximately 30% of boy children and 25% of girl children under the age of 5 is stunted.”
The rich will get richer
South Africa’s current deficit is 80,3% and the average country deficit globally is 100% or more.
Abrahams says, “We are not spending and not borrowing in the worst economic crisis and health pandemic ever faced. We are even, outrageously, aiming for a surplus by 2024/25.
“This will, most likely, benefit the few wealthy South Africans and corporates, but will not assist the majority of South Africans.”
Poverty will deepen, Abrahams believes. It will take us longer to climb out of the poverty traps that current policy decisions are leading us to.
“How can we be alright that our government seems no longer to care if there is food on the table, if lights are on, if homes are safe, if women are safe?”
Abrahams believes new ways of thinking and innovative approaches are needed in order to curb the current crises of poverty, hunger and unemployment.
“Too many people are suffering, and lives and livelihoods are being destroyed to the extent that they may not be recovered.
“A new commitment to racial transformation, justice, equity, and new ways of creating work and providing dignity and freedom to everyone cannot and must not be deferred.”