FOOD BASKET CHECK
As prices rise, the R350 Social Relief of Distress grant buys less and less
As part of our ongoing coverage, Maverick Citizen has been keeping track of what essential food items the Social Relief of Distress grant recipients can buy as food prices head upwards. Here’s what they could afford over the past three months.
Since April, Maverick Citizen has been investigating food price hikes in a Johannesburg inner-city supermarket. We have gone shopping with R350 and prioritised grocery items that make up the bulk of the staple diets of many South Africans.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “How much food can you buy with the R350 grant? We go shopping”
Months of huge fuel price increases have contributed to soaring food prices and the worsening of South Africa’s food insecurity crisis. This has sparked fears of renewed social instability and a repeat of the devastating July unrest.
Already in May 2022, the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant, which initially played a role in the realisation of the right to food for about 11 million people and their dependents every month, was not enough to buy a food basket for an individual.
In July and August 2022, the food basket price was unchanged on a seasonally adjusted basis, after an 8.6% year-on-year rise in June in the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages (NAB). According to Statistics South Africa, this is the highest annual rate for food and NAB since March 2017 when the country was recovering from a severe drought.
Over the past three months we found that grant recipients would have been able to buy even less. While some prices remained the same and others increased only slightly, there has been a sharp increase in items such as bread, maize meal, cooking oil and cabbage. A basket of food that cost R388 in June has risen by almost R25.
Maverick Citizen Food Basket Price Tracker (June-August)
Maverick Citizen has aimed to buy the same food items every month. However, in June, July and August not everything on the list was bought because the price increases exceeded our R350 budget. Items marked with an asterisk were not always bought because of the need to prioritise more essential items.
Mervyn Abrahams, the programme coordinator of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity (PMBEJD) group, says R350 is not enough given the food basket price spikes.
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The group tracks the prices of 44 core food items most frequently bought by lower-income households, who comprise most households in the country. As of July, the PMBEJD basket stands at R4,748.08.
“Since February this year, we have seen just an upward trajectory without balancing out or coming down on the cost of a food basket. Our basket price has increased by R60 over June [with] a R611.44 (14%) increase over July last year. The food price spikes are significant in that they affect affordability, meaning households have less income to spend on food. As a net outcome, households buy less and less food — R350 cannot [buy] a household a food basket,” said Abrahams during the virtual launch of researcher Hein Marais’s latest book, In the Balance: The Case for a Universal Basic Income in South Africa and Beyond.
At the end of July, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy published the official fuel adjustments for August 2022, with motorists finally getting some relief from hikes.
The price cuts in fuel meant a stabilisation in food prices — despite 75 cents per litre being added back to the general fuel levy as the government’s fuel price interventions were fully withdrawn.
SRD grant cannot prevent acute hunger
In response to activist pressure on 17 August 2022, the Department of Social Development announced that it had raised the threshold for eligibility for the SRD grant to all people with a monthly income less than the food poverty line of R624. While welcome, this is an admission that the R350 grant, which has not increased since it was started in 2020, is not enough to prevent acute hunger.
Israel Nkuna, an activist from Mhlathi Village in Limpopo, said:
“The threshold was set at R624 because that is the food poverty threshold — that’s the level at which a single person is getting the calories they need to avoid starvation. Not to thrive, not to be healthy, not to be an attentive learner. But R624 is also the food poverty level that was determined in September 2021. We know that food prices in South Africa have risen dramatically since then, and there’s good reason to believe it’s only going to get worse.”
Maverick Citizen will continue to track the price of these essential food items over the next few months. MC/DM