The latest adjusted national poverty lines (NPLs) make a mockery of the R460 child support grant, which is way below the poverty line, says one researcher. According to Stats SA, each South African needs at least R624 a month to afford the minimum amount of food required to survive every day.
Stats SA constructs the NPLs every five to 10 years, or whenever there are notable changes observed in households’ consumption patterns or changes in the cost of living – that is, the price of goods and services.
The food poverty line, also known as the extreme poverty line, has been rising, indicating how prices have gone up to affect the poorest people’s ability to buy food in a country where about 55.5% of the population languishes in poverty.
In 2019, the food poverty line was R561. Last year, it increased to R585. The lower-bound poverty line is R890, which is the food poverty line, plus the average amount derived from non-food items of households whose total expenditure is equal to the food poverty line.
Stats SA found that the upper-bound poverty line was R1 335 per person per month. This refers to the food poverty line plus the average amount derived from non-food items of households whose food expenditure is equal to the food poverty line.
Julie Smith, a researcher at the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, said that the adjusted NPLs were an indictment on government, especially considering that the child support grant was only R460 per month.
This is at least R164 less than the minimum amount required for survival:
“This shows how the state is doing in terms of the child support grant – children are not a priority. When a child is stunted because of not getting nutritious food, no one can make up for that later,” said Smith.
“The child support grant is unfortunately not feeding the children, but rather everybody in poor families who eat from the same pot.
She said the NPLs were undervalued considering the fact that the electricity tariff had gone up by about 14%, which meant that the price of food was higher.
“We need electricity to cook. In actual fact, we are in a worse situation than we think we are.”
Smith said that the R350 Covid-19 social relief grant needed to be automatically extended to mothers to offset the high food prices.
Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke said in the report that the NPLs were not constructed for determining the equitable share that national government allocates to provinces.
They were also not designed for setting the national minimum wage, determining eligibility thresholds or the amount that should be paid toward social grants.
Maluleke added: “Nevertheless, the NPLs can help inform and serve as a possible input into some of these processes in ways that could create pro-poor dimensions.”
He said the need for rebasing the NPLs emanated from the fact that spending and consumption patterns had changed over time.
“This means the basket of goods and services on which the existing poverty lines were based may have changed, making it necessary to update estimates using recent consumption data to make sure that the lines remain relevant and accurate.
“In this way, the official poverty lines used in South Africa take account of the changing needs, preferences and social conditions. Rebasing also allows for the calculation of poverty lines based on improved sampling frames and data collection methods.”
The food and non-food components of the poverty lines were adjusted separately because their prices did not always increase or decrease at the same time, Maluleke said.