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A low-income home now pays 20% more for a basic food basket than a year ago

| Economic factors

The price of a typical food basket for a low-income household has increased to its highest level to date, driven mainly by a surge in the price of maize meal.

In August, the price of a low-income household’s food basket rose R318 or almost 20% to R1,942 compared to August 2015, according to research by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa).

The Pacsa basket is constructed on the observed actual consumption patterns of an average low-income household of seven people.

The 20% price surge in this food basket over the past year was driven largely by maize meal. As a result of the severe drought, a 25kg bag of maize cost R233 this August — nearly 40% or R66 more than a year ago.

The price of sugar is also trending higher, with a 10kg bag of white sugar up R11 in August this year compared to the previous month. This moved the total price of a bag of sugar to R136 — a 26% increase on August last year.

Other foodstuffs that contributed to the steep annual increase in August’s food basket included samp, white sugar, maas (sour milk) and eggs.

However, frozen chicken portion prices continue to drop. At a little more than R21/kg, frozen chicken pieces were 7% cheaper this August than at the same time a year ago.

Pacsa estimates that a food basket for a family of seven that meets minimum nutritional requirements cost R4,325 in August. This is R2,382 more than the average low-income family of seven in the Pietermartizburg area is spending on food.

"It means that low-income families with seven members are underspending on nutritious, albeit still very basic, food by 55%," said Pacsa director Mervyn Abrahams. "This has implications for health and wellbeing because there is a direct connection between the food we eat and how our bodies function."

Pacsa estimates that the cost of meeting the minimum nutritional requirements of a small child (aged three to nine years) topped R554 a month in August. The current value of the state child support grant is R350 a month.

Similarly, the cost of feeding an elderly person older than 65 years a diet that meets minimum nutritional requirements ranges from R605 a month for a woman to R644 a month for a man. The current old-age pension is R1,500 a month.

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