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Newsletter: From Evidence to Action

More people living below breadline - Stats SA

Johannesburg - The government will have to rethink its anti-poverty initiatives after a new Stats SA report showed that more people in South Africa are poor, after a tweak in how the national statistics body measures the poverty line.

A rebasing of three national poverty indicators shows that more people are poor than previously thought. The proportion of the population who are deemed to be living in poverty has now jumped from 45.5 percent to 53.8 percent.

The reason is that the upper-bound poverty line, which measures the income people need for essential items after meeting their basic food needs, was recalculated from R620 a month to R779.

“Although methodological differences are the most likely explanation for the changes in the poverty lines, it is possible that other changes have occurred in terms of items deemed essential for a minimum level of living conditions in South Africa.

“Examples include airtime, transport and energy costs, as well as changes in diet that are the result of increasing urbanisation,” the Stats SA report said.

There has also been a significant change in South Africa’s food poverty line, which is a measurement of how much money is needed to meet basic daily dietary requirements. The re-based food poverty line is now $2.34 (R26.70) per person a day.

Those who fall below this line are unable to purchase or consume enough food to supply them with the basic energy requirement of 2 100 kilocalories a day, and are considered to be living in “extreme poverty”.

The proportion of South Africans living in extreme poverty rose 1.5 percentage points – from 20.2 percent of the population to 21.7 percent.

Dick Forslund, an economist at the Alternative Information and Development Centre, said the government would have to take these new numbers seriously.

“The political agenda has now been undermined by this report,” he pointed out.

Forslund said the logical way to deal with the greater number of poor people would be to increase social grants.

“This must be financed by increasing taxes on the rich. The rich can afford an increase as they have been benefiting from cuts in personal taxes.”

A substantial rise in social support grants would likely be resisted by business and conservative lobbies, but it could be argued that it was overdue.

The Treasury is criticised annually for its low, headline-inflation linked increases to social grants. Unions, NGOs and other pro-poor lobby groups have argued that these increases should be bench-marked against the “real inflation” experienced by the 20 percent poorest households, which is driven by rising food and transport costs.

Stats SA has piloted separate poverty lines for the country’s nine provinces.

The data shows that Kwa-Zulu-Natal has the highest food poverty line at R354 per capita a month, the Northern Cape is the lowest at R310. Gauteng, South Africa’s richest province, stands at R339 per person a month.

Poverty eradication was the world’s biggest challenge, Stats SA said.

The Star

More people living below breadline - Stats SA