Pacsa study reveals poor households in dire straits

2013-10-16 00:00

PENSIONERS and poor households in Pietermaritzburg are struggling to afford basic food for their families — and children are paying the price.

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action’s (Pacsa) 2013 Food Prices Barometer shows that 60% of Pietermaritzburg households have a monthly income of less than R3 200 and spend 47% of their income on food.

Times are so tough, the barometer shows, that households are switching dramatically from buying frozen chicken portions to cheaper cuts like heads and feet, necks, livers, and turkey.

The report, which was released to coincide with World Food Day today, states that the price of a basket of 32 food products that form the basis of the shopping trolleys of poor and working class households in Pietermaritzburg, increased to R1 509,34 in September 2013, an increase of 8,7% year on year. The same trolley cost R1 345,34 in 2012.

Pensioners who support families would not afford the basic food trolley on their R1 260 grant.

Julie Smith said old age pensions increased by five percent from R1 200 to R1 260.

“Households living on an old age pension will struggle to buy a basket of basic nutritious food, their pension falling well short of the cost of a basic basket of food,” said Smith.

She explained that one of the findings in the 2013 Pacsa Food Price Barometer is that the core staples of maize meal, rice, flour, bread, potatoes, sugar and oil are becoming more expensive and increasingly unaffordable. Core staples, mainly made up of starches, form the core of the working class and poor household diets.

“Starches must be bought regardless of price. This means that households have to spend more money on starches and less money is available to buy meat, dairy, fats and oils, and vegetables. This has a significant impact on dietary diversity and has serious implications for people’s health,” she said.

“This may have long term and irreversible effects on health, productivity and wellbeing, particularly if higher prices lead to reduced food consumption by infants and pre-school children. Even temporary interruptions in intake of energy, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals during the first 1 000 days of a child’s life can lead to permanent reduction in cognitive capacities.”

The report said if children were unable to access sufficient quantities of nutrition and diverse food then they will not thrive and are more likely to get serious infections and common childhood illnesses will be more severe.

Pacsa deputy director Mervyn Abrahams said, “We can spend billions of rands on healthcare, but if we don’t deal with hunger then our public hospitals will continue to be overburdened; the treatment we give to our patients in the absence of food will not enable our people to live full and healthy lives.”

Abrahams said hunger and poverty must be dealt with for the national policies to bear fruit and for the national budget to be well spent.

He added that without sufficient nutrition the majority of households will continue to be trapped in poverty. “Investing in ensuring that all people have access to affordable and sufficient quantities of a diverse range of food and eliminating poverty is not only core to equity and justice, but because every development goal is hinged on the ability of people being able to think and learn to be physically fit and healthy.”

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