The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group (PMBEJD) yesterday called for the reinstatement of social grant top-ups and the Special Covid-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant amid elevated food prices and as the country grappled with the third wave of the pandemic.

The PMBEJD said that, according to its Household Affordability Index, over the past 10 months, the cost of the average household food basket had increased by 7.1 percent, or R271.90, to R4 128.23 in June.

The organisation’s programme co-ordinator, Mervyn Abrahams, said in a media release yesterday that mothers had told them that high food prices have hollowed out the provision of proper nutrition for their families.

“This has removed an important line of defence against Covid-19 and other common illnesses, and children and women are more vulnerable to disease. It is likely that the long queues of hungry people that we saw in the first and second waves requiring food support will again come to pass, because the state has taken away all income support, wages have not gone up, unemployment levels remain untenably high, jobs continue to be lost, and food prices have gone up.

“At the very least, government should reinstate the support that was given in the first and second waves, bring back the top-ups to the grants and the Covid Special Relief Grant,” said Abrahams.

The Household Affordability Index tracked food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Joburg (Soweto, Alexandra, Tembisa and Hillbrow), Durban (KwaMashu, Umlazi, Isipingo, Durban CBD and Mtubatuba), Cape Town (Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Langa, Delft and Dunoon), Pietermaritzburg and Springbok (in the Northern Cape).

The index showed that the average cost of the household food basket was R4 128.23 last month.

On a month-on-month basis, between May and June, the average cost of the household food basket decreased by R8.88 (-0.2 percent). Over the past 10 months, (between the first publication of the index in September last year and last month), the average cost of the household food basket shot up by R271.90 (7.1 percent) from R3 856.34 in September 2020 to R4 128.23.

According to the index, over the past month, the prices of maize meal, rice and flour have declined. Cooking oil prices continued to be high, as did those of sugar and sugar beans. The prices of fruit and vegetable, except potatoes and onions, also came down.

The prices of all meat products have risen, which was a typical trend during the winter months when feed costs and energy costs increased. The price of margarine had increased, and there had been a significant spike in the price of polony.

The household food baskets for all areas, except Joburg, declined slightly in June. However, this did not bring relief to struggling households, the PMBEJD said.

The group said that Statistics South Africa’s Consumer Price Index for food and non-alcoholic beverages rose to 6.7 percent in May. Headline inflation for May was 5.2 percent. It said this meant that the value of the money in people’s pockets was being eroded by higher levels of inflation on basic goods and services.

The national minimum wage (NMW) for a general worker was R3 643.92 in June. Transport to and from work cost a worker an average of R1 260 (34.6 percent of the NMW), while electricity costs an average of R647.50 (17.8 percent). Together, transport and electricity, which were described as non-negotiable expenses, took up 52.3 percent (R1 907.50) of the NMW, leaving only R1 736.42 to secure all other household expenses.

The average cost of the PMBEJD’s basic nutritional food basket for a family of four was R2 859.60 in June. Based on this, if a household used all the remaining money after transport and electricity to buy food, it would have a food shortfall of 39.3 percent (-R1 123.18).

From today, the prices of most municipal services such as electricity, water and refuse collection would increase by more than 10 percent. Taxi fares would also increase in various parts of the country.

The organisation said that, on average, it cost R729.05 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet. The Child Support Grant of R460 a month was therefore 21percent below the food poverty line of R585 per capita and a further 37 percent below the June cost of R729.05 to feed a child a basic nutritious diet, thereby deepening the crisis around child nutrition.

The PMBEJD warned that high food prices and joblessness could lead to social disorder and social instability.

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