Poor consumers must cut more nutritious food as prices keep rising

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In May, the cost of a basic nutritional food basket for a family of four was R3 535.64. PHOTO: iStock

Food prices for the poor keep increasing, with a basket of basic food for a family of four now costing R5 071.59, far higher than the R4 473.92 a general worker who earns the minimum wage takes home.

This means that low-income consumers must cut even more nutritious food from their food baskets as they battle to afford the other two big costs in their lives − transport and electricity.

The May 2023 Household Affordability Index that tracks food price data from 47 supermarkets and 32 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Mtubatuba in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, and Springbok in the Northern Cape shows that the average cost of the Household Food Basket increased by R47.64 (0,9%), from R5 023.95 in April 2023 to R5 071.59 in May 2023.

Compared to a year ago, the average cost of the basket increased by R461.70 (10,0%), from R4 609.89 in May 2022 to R5 071.59 in May 2023.

Foods that cost more than 5% more in May include onions (12%), stock cubes (5%), carrots (12%), butternut (14%), and bananas (5%), while maize meal (3%), salt (4%), curry powder (3%), soup (3%), tea (3%), full cream milk (3%), eggs (3%), chicken feet (2%), chicken livers (4%), spinach (4%), peanut butter (3%), and polony (2%) also cost more.

Food prices in the regions
During May 2023, low-income consumers paid less for the food baskets compared to April in Cape Town and Pietermaritzburg, but consumers in Johannesburg, Durban, Springbok and Mtubatuba were not so lucky.

The Johannesburg basket cost R43.80 (0,9%) more than in April and increased by R438.36 (9,5%) compared to May 2023, while the Durban basket’s monthly increase was R159.92 (3,3%) and the annual increase was R330.99 (7,0%).

The Cape Town basket decreased by R64.85 (-1,3%) compared to April, but increased by R580.48 (13,1%) compared to May last year. The Springbok basket also increased by R153.95 (2,9%) compared to April and by R564.10 (11,4%) compared to May 2023.

The Pietermaritzburg basket cost R27.56 (-0,6%) less than in April, but R478.03 (10,7%) more than in May last year. The Mtubatuba basket cost R93.92 (1,8%) more compared to April and R546.41 (11,6%) more compared to May 2023.

Earning the minimum wage
These prices are simply unaffordable for workers who earn the National Minimum Wage if R25.42 per hour and R203.36 for an 8-hour shift. May had 22 working days, which means a general worker took home R4 473.92.

They must use this money to support their families and not just themselves and for black workers, one wage typically supports four people. Dispersed in a worker’s family of four people, which means there is only R1 118.48 for each person, far below the upper-bound poverty line of R1 417 per person per month.

In May, the cost of a basic nutritional food basket for a family of four was R3 535.64. Using Pietermaritzburg-based figures for electricity and transport and the average figure for a minimum nutritional basket of food for a family of four, the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group calculates that electricity and transport takes up 53% of a worker’s wage (R2 371.50 of R4 473.92).

Low-income consumers only buy food after paying for transport and electricity, leaving only R2 102.42 for food and everything else. Therefore, the group calculates that workers’ families underspent on food by a minimum of 40,5% as they had only R2 102.42 left after transport and electricity and food cost R3 535.64.

The group says there is therefore no possibility of a worker being able to afford enough nutritious food for a family. If the entire R2 102,42 all went to buy food for a family of four people the amount for food per person is R525.60. This is below the food poverty line of R663.

Food prices cancel out basic nutritious diet for children
The average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet in May was R901.19, R9.06 (1,0%) more than in April and 12,2% more than in May last year. This is against a backdrop of a child support grant of R500 that is 25% below the Food Poverty Line of R663 and 45% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.

Low-income consumers buy core foods first to ensure that their families do not go hungry while ensuring that meals can be cooked. The group says when the prices of core foods increase, there is less money to secure other important, mostly nutritionally rich foods, which are essential for health and well-being and strong immune systems, such as meat, eggs and dairy, which are critical for protein, iron and calcium, as well as vegetables and fruit which are critical for vitamins, minerals and fibre and maas, peanut butter and pilchards, good fats, protein and calcium essential for children.

The data shows that the core foods contribute 55% of the total cost of the basket. At an average cost of R2 763.36 in May2023, these foods are relatively very expensive in relation to the total money available in the household budget to buy food.

Low-income consumers must buy these foods regardless of price escalations. The high cost of core staple foods result in a lot of proper nutritious food being removed off the family plates and the group says the consequences of high costs on the core foods has a negative impact on overall household health and well-being and child development.

The Citizen/Ina Opperman