South African consumers have no choice but to drop nutritious foods from their grocery baskets as they can barely afford essential expenses such as electricity and transport to and from work.
According to the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group’s latest Household Affordability Index, the purchasing patterns of low-income households have changed because of significant increases in flour, cooking oil, egg, tea and bread prices. Women responsible for household shopping buy core staple foods first so that their families do not go hungry, but meals are often very basic.
“Where the money remaining [after fixed expenses] is short, women have no choice but to drop foods from their trolleys or reduce the volumes of nutritionally rich foods in their trolleys,” reads the report. “This has negative consequences for health, well-being and nutrition.”
The gap between affordability and nutrition is thus widening as South Africa’s economic circumstances worsen.
Food, hygiene compete viciously
The Household Affordability Index tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries, mainly in Durban, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok townships. The Household Food Basket which it uses, was specifically developed with the help of women earning low incomes in order to provide a realistic measure of poorer households’ spending habits.
The latest edition of the monthly report revealed that:
- In March 2022, the average cost of the Household Food Basket was R4 450,09.
- Month-on-month, the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R94,39 (2,2%), from
R4 355,70 in February 2022 to R4 450,09 in March.
- Year-on-year, the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R410,53 (10,2%), from R4 039,56 in March 2021 to R4 450,09 in March 2022.
The report also provides income scenarios for different numbers of days and hours worked at the national minimum wage, which highlight how little these households can realistically afford.
“Households do not prioritise paying for food first out of the wage. Instead, households paid low incomes are forced to secure non-negotiable expenses like transport and electricity before food,” the report states.
“Other important expenses, like debt servicing, scholar transport, education and burial insurances, including household domestic and personal hygiene products, also compete viciously in the purse.”
Nutrition suffers most
What is compromised most, is nutrition. “In March 2022, the child support grant was 26% below the food poverty line and 42% below the average cost to secure a basic nutritious diet for a child,” the report states.
The index’s Nutritional Food Basket is a separate measure that was developed with the help of a registered dietician to measure the cost of ensuring healthy growth and development in children. “[It] is an index on which we can start talking realistically about the cost of nutritious food, and the inadequacies of low wages and social grants.”
Mervyn Abrahams, programme coordinator at the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, says that the average cost to feed a child a basic, nutritious diet is now R787,99.
Year-on-year, the cost to feed a child a basic, nutritious diet has increased by R65 or 9%. In stark contrast to this, government chose to increase the child support grant by R20 from April 2022.
“With the projected rising food costs coming, it is likely that child food poverty, under-nutrition, stunting, poor cognitive and physical growth, illness and poor health, inability to concentrate at school, struggles to function and adjust in society, will all worsen.”
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