The Mercury

Poor left behind as basic food prices soar

Hunger and debt on the rise as indigent families forced to cut back


SPIRALLING food prices and shrinking incomes are forcing poor households deeper into debt as families struggle to pay for transport to put food on the table.

The Pietermari­tzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PEJD) group revealed this yesterday when it announced the national expansion of its monthly Household Affordabil­ity Index, which now tracks food price data from 44 supermarke­ts and 30 butcheries in Johannesbu­rg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermari­tzburg.

PEJD researcher Julie Smith said the average cost of a food basket was R3 916.72 in October 2020. The basket increased by R60.39 (1.6%) between September 2020 and October 2020. The cost of the basket was R3 709.92 in Pietermari­tzburg, R3 907.62 in Durban, R3 920.86 in Cape Town, R3 969.41 in Johannesbu­rg and R4 034.53 in Springbok. The national minimum wage for a general worker in October 2020 is less than the cost of the basket at R3 653.76.

According to the survey, the main foods driving higher increases are maize meal (2%), rice (1%), cake flour (1%), sugar beans (7%), cooking oil (2%), potatoes (20%) and bread (white 2% and brown 1%), butternut (68%), tinned pilchards (4%) and peanut butter (5%).

The cost of the basket increased year on year by R329.74, or 10.4% compared with October last year.

Smith said the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R693.05 in October, which was 37% more than the monthly R440 child support grant.

She said the index served as an early warning system for how the state of the economy was affecting ordinary citizens.

“Families eat out of the same pot. If the government removes the top-ups on the Old-Age Grant, the Special Covid Relief Grant and R500 top-up to the Child Support Grant too soon, then hunger will explode in millions of our children’s bellies and condemn yet another generation to desperate poverty,” Smith said.

“Our projection­s, based on past data trends and current data, are that the cost of household food baskets purchased by low-income families will continue to rise through the festive season and into the New Year,” she said.

families living on low wages and low grants simply cannot afford these food price escalation­s

Julie Smith


“South African families living on low wages and low grants simply cannot afford these food price escalation­s generally, but especially not in the midst of a pandemic, a deepening household affordabil­ity crisis and a deteriorat­ing economy,” Smith said.

She added that women were struggling to buy food for their families in the face of rising prices and were being forced to go deeper into debt and to drop nutritious foods like proteins from their diets. She said this would affect the health and productivi­ty of the nation.

PEJD programme co- ordinator Mervyn Abrahams said the group had expanded its survey nationally because it was critical to supply civic organisati­ons, policymake­rs and trade unions with credible data to track how lowerincom­e households were responding to the economic crisis.

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