Not enough for food

2019-05-29 15:00
Local grannies picketed in front of the provincial legislature last year calling for government to increase their pension grant to match the monthly national minimum wage. PHOTO: Nokuthula Ntuli

Local grannies picketed in front of the provincial legislature last year calling for government to increase their pension grant to match the monthly national minimum wage. PHOTO: Nokuthula Ntuli

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The affordability crisis faced by poor South African households continues to deepen with many struggling to even put food on the table.

According to Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity’s (EJD) latest Household Affordability Index for May, the cost of a food basket for a family of seven has decreased by only R25,64 from April’s R3 076,76. However, it is still an increase from last June’s R3 050,58.

EJD’s Mervyn Abrahams said value added tax (VAT) constituted R209,36 of the cost of the basket and that called into question the idea that zero rating some foods items would make a basket of food affordable for low-income households.

“Zero rating of a few foods is not enough to deal with household affordability and the new zero ratings have almost had no effect on the cost of a basket of food used by working class South Africans,” he said.

Abrahams said the cost of a nutritious basket of food for a household of four persons also increased by R56,72 to R3 123,10. This means that if a worker earns the monthly national minimum wage of R3 200, after buying food, they will only have R76,90 left for all other household expenses such as transport, electricity and debt servicing.

“In this context, South Africa’s high stunting levels (30% of boy children under the age of five years) is not surprising. Workers do not earn enough to purchase nutritious food. Low nutrition contributes to low socio-development outcomes and low productivity, which contributes to low economic growth.”

The reports also highlighted the cost of transport eating away the value of the low wage, leaving very little money to secure food and other critical expenses. The ever-increasing cost of electricity is also not making this easy for poverty-stricken households.

Abrahams also raised concerns about the overall unemployment rate in the country, which has increased to 27,6%, while the expanded unemployment rate for black South Africans stands at 42,5%. This, he said, translated into about 10 million unemployed people, of whom nine million are black South Africans.

“These numbers call into question the usual ‘job creation’ narrative and demand that government look at alternative means to bring these workers into the productive economy.”

Pietermaritzburg Pensioners Forum’s Doreen Taylor said the grannies raising their grandchildren were the hardest hit by the increase in food prices, electricity and transport fares.

“We can’t keep up and that has a negative impact on our health, as a result most of us are either on high blood pressure medication or we are walking around with undiagnosed depression,” she said.

Taylor is one of the elderly women who picketed in front of the provincial legislature last year calling for government to increase the pension grant to match the monthly national minimum wage.

She said the R1 700 grant they received was not enough for most families because some of their grandchildren’s parents were either unemployed or not in the picture.

“Most of us are not able to buy all the food items so we buy just a few basic things and the rest of the money goes to electricity, funeral insurance and transport,” she said. “We are basically buying food to fill our tummies so that we can stay alive instead of food that is nutritious. We know that the quality of some of the food we are buying is not good, but it’s what we can afford.”

The Snathing resident said greedy loan sharks made huge profits from the loans they gave to the pensioners as most of them could only afford to pay interest.

“We take loans to cover expenses like travelling to a relative’s funeral, school uniforms and if we need go to a private doctor,” Taylor explained.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  poverty

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