The price of the food basket for low-income consumers fell in February, but it still costs more than a year ago. Workers who earn minimum wage still cannot buy all items in the shopping cart and have to forgo the more nutritious items.
Data from the Household Affordability Index of February 2022, conducted by women from low-income areas, shows that the average cost of the household food basket was R4,355.70, down from R45.33 (-1%), from R4, 401.02 in January and an increase of R354.52 (8.9%) from R4,001.17 in February 2021.
The index tracks food prices at 44 supermarkets and 30 butcher shops in low-income areas of Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok in the Northern Cape. The group says prices in all of these areas have fallen marginally for most basket foods for most commodities, meats and vegetables, except cooking oil, margarine and Cremora.
The average cost of the food that people prioritize and buy first in the household food basket decreased by R35.04 (-1.5%) from R2,338.83 in January to R2,303.78, but increased by R123.14 (5.6%) from R2.18.64 in February 2021.
Core foods in food basket
The group says it’s important to consider the cost of the foods that low-income consumers prioritize and buy first. These consumers buy the staple foods first to ensure their families don’t go hungry, while also ensuring the meals can be cooked.
However, when the prices of staple foods rise, they have less money to buy other important, usually nutrient-rich foods that are essential for health and wellness and a strong immune system, such as:
- Meat, eggs and dairy essential for providing protein, iron and calcium
- Fruits and vegetables essential for vitamins, minerals and fiber
- Mesh, peanut butter and sardines are good sources of the fats, proteins and calcium essential for children’s growth.
According to the data, the core foodstuffs contribute 53% to the total cost of the basket and at an average cost of R2, 303.78 in February, relatively very expensive in relation to the total money available in the household stock exchange to buy food.
Consumers must buy these foods regardless of price increases, but the high cost of staple foods means that consumers often have to cut out many good nutritious foods because they simply cannot afford it. Expensive staple foods therefore have a negative effect on the overall health and well-being of the household, as well as on child development.
Minimum wage falls short
Low-income consumers do not earn nearly enough to pay current prices and certainly cannot afford price increases. The National Minimum Wage (NMW) for a general worker in February was R3,470.40.
For transport to work and back, an employee would pay an average of R1280 (36.9% of NMW) and an average of R731.50 (21.1% of NMW) for electricity. These two non-negotiable expenses take up 58% (R2,011.50) of NMW, leaving the consumer with R1,458.90 for all other household expenses.
This means that working-class families will have to spend a minimum of 51.8% on food this month based on the group’s basic food basket, which stands at R3,029.23 for a family of four.
The productivity of workers in the workplace and their children’s ability to learn in classrooms, as well as whether they should visit a health center, all depend on the foods they eat, leaving them few choices.
Nutritious food for children in the food basket
The average cost of feeding a child a basic nutritious diet in February 2022 was R771.95, with an annual increase of R61.20 or 8.6%. Then consider that child support in February was R460, 26% below the food poverty line of R624 and 40% below the average cost of feeding a child a basic nutritious diet.
The government increased child benefits by R20 from April 2022, an increase of 4.3%. This increase will move the R480 child benefit from 26% below the food poverty line to 23% below the food poverty line.