Food price hikes cause ‘Janu-worries’


January is always a difficult month for working class families, and news from PACSA that the prices of important food items that the working class depends on has increased is a blow to many. In its latest Monthly Food Price Barometer, issued in January 2017, a normal working class family in Pietermaritzburg had to pay another R112 more than what it paid in December to put a basic plate of food on the table. When this was compared with the same time in January 2016, the same family had to find R300 extra to eat the same plate of food. Although the PACSA Food Price Barometer measure increases in the prices of basic food items in Pietermaritzburg, it also gives a good idea of what is happening to prices of food in other parts of the country. In places like Gauteng, these price increases may even be higher.

Increases in prices of food items impact most on poor families. In January 2017 PACSA recorded that a basic food basket costs R2092, compared to the same basket costing R1 794 in January 2016. According to the report on the national minimum wage released by the government at the end of 2016, a vary large number of workers earn below R3 500 per month, and whole families depend on this money to live on for all their needs. Another big number of working class families do not even earn this money, and depend on social grants. While the food basket increased 16,5% between January 2016 and January 2017, the government pensions of working class families went up by R90, only 6,3%, from R1510, and the increase for the Child Support Grant went up by R30 from R360, which is only 9,1%.

The PACSA Food Price Barometer also measures how much a child needs to get basic good nutrition. To put a good plate of food on the plate for a working class child went up by 11,6%, compared with an increase of 9,1% for the Child Support Grant. According to a report published by the United Nations International Children Fund (Unicef), a major cause of death for over 64% of South African children who die before they are five years old is lack of food. The continuing rise in food prices in South Africa puts many more children at risk of death or of permanent damage to their health.

The shortage of food in the house as a result of high prices also impact on women in the household more than it does on men and children. Many black working class women therefore suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, and other diseases related to low quality nutrition.

The January PACSA Food Basket figures also provided information on what impact the National Minimum Wage will have on the ability of working class South Africans to get enough food. In the Barometer PACSA said that most families with about 4 people rely on one person who earns a wage. In January 2017 a family of 4 persons needed R2617 for very basic food. With a NMW of R3500 this will leave them with less than R1000 per month to cover all the other items, including transport, education, health and other expenses. This leaves many families with no choice but to cut down on these basic food items, because in many cases they cannot negotiate or adjust the cost of transport for going to work, the cost of health when they get sick, or at times some of the key expenditure items that are needed for education and other costs.

This leads many working class families into a debt trap, as they continually have to borrow money from loan sharks and other families, and they are never able to get out of this situation of indebtedness.

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