If government removes Covid-19 grant top-ups too soon, millions of children will be condemned to desperate poverty as food prices continue to rise.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group indicated in its October Household Affordability Index that food prices had been rising since the start of the lockdown.
“If government removes the top-up on the old age grant, the special Covid-19 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,” said group programme coordinator Mervyn Abrahams.
The index, said Abrahams, serves as an early warning system for how the country’s economy is doing and impacting on ordinary South Africans.
The group tracked food prices from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Springbok and Pietermaritzburg.
The main findings from the October index show that the average cost of a household food basket is R3 916.72.
“The household food basket increased by more than R60 (1.6%) between September 2020 and October 2020,” said the report.
The cost of the Pietermaritzburg household food basket was R3 709,92, Durban (R3 907.62), Cape Town (R3 920.86), Johannesburg (R3 969.41) and Springbok (R4 034.53).
“There is perhaps no cruder lens than the foods on our plates, and here we are in very big trouble,” Abrahams 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.
“On the income side, it does not look like things will improve, and they may worsen if the millions of jobs lost during the lockdown are not recovered and if government removes the top-ups on the social grants and the Covid-19 relief grant too soon.”
Abrahams said South African families living on low wages and low grants simply couldn’t afford food price escalations generally, and especially not in the midst of a pandemic.
The main foods that are driving higher increases in the household food basket are maize meal (2%), rice (1%), cake flour (1%), sugar beans (7%), cooking oil (2%), potatoes (20%), bread (white 2% and brown 1%), butternut (68%), tinned pilchards (4%) and peanut butter (5%).
“The national minimum wage of a general worker in October 2020 is R3 653.76, so the average cost of the household food basket of R3 916.72 is well beyond the affordability threshold of families living on low incomes.
“Low-paid workers do not earn enough to afford a basket of food for their families, this before deducting transport fare to work and back, and electricity, among a myriad of other critical expenses,” the report said.
The group also said the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R693.05, but the child support grant is R440 a month, which is 25% below the food poverty line of R585 per capita.
The grant is 37% below the October cost (R693.05) to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.