Covid-19 stymies six years of progress in tackling poverty in Gauteng

Six years of progress in poverty alleviation in South Africa has been undone by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is according to the Gauteng City-Region Observatory’s (GCRO) sixth quality of life survey. 

“We’ve seen a steady decrease in the proportion of households living below the poverty line over time. However, in 2021 poverty levels have shot back up, and we find that 36% of households, over a third, are living in poverty”, says Julian de Kadt, senior researcher at GCRO. 

In 2019 the food poverty line was R561 and the lower-bound poverty line was R810, per person per month. The previous year, the poverty line was R785; in 2017 it stood at R758; and in 2014 it was R613. 

In April 2020 the lower-bound poverty line reached R840. 

Low- and middle-income households have been hit the hardest by the pandemic with a “notable increase” in these households falling into the lowest income bracket. High-income households remained “largely consistent”, De Kadt says. 

The effect of increased poverty was visible when comparing the cost of a basic basket of nutritional foods for a standardised household. 

In March the Household Affordability Index announced the cost of maintaining a basic nutritious diet for a family of four was R2 778.48 a month. Meanwhile, the cost of a basic food basket totals R4 198.93. A year ago the average cost of a food basket was R3 856.34.

Data shows that 52% of households in Gauteng, are not spending enough on food “to meet the basic nutritional needs of [the household] members”. 

“Covid-19 has changed behaviours in the province, but it has also triggered an economical collapse, which has had significant implications on socioeconomic wellbeing,” according to De Kadt, who presented the latest GCRO report. 

“The emergence of [the] Covid-19 pandemic has led to severe disruptions in normal economic activity, commuting, recreational activities and social interaction. It was in this context this particular survey took place,” said GCRO chief executive Rashid Seedat during the official launch of the report on Thursday 9 September. 

GCRO has run its quality of life survey every two years since 2009. The recent survey was conducted between October 2020 and May 2021 in Gauteng, where 13 616 participants spread over nine municipalities in the province took part. 

The survey consists of 214 questions covering a range of themes, including living conditions, socioeconomic circumstances, perceptions of service delivery and government, self-reported health and wellbeing, and perceived safety. 

According to De Kadt, the report helps to yield insight into work that aims to improve the wellbeing and quality of life in communities. 

Data drawn from the report shows 2.7% of households had one family member who tested positive for Covid-19. However, this data might be skewed, because another question about healthcare access painted a bleak picture. 

Seven percent of respondents have struggled with access to sufficient healthcare since March 2020 —  the start of the pandemic in South Africa. Access to testing for Covid-19 was also an issue. Limited access to healthcare was predominantly recorded by respondents from low-income households, with 11% of them earning R1 to R800 monthly.

“These findings support concerns about substantial counting of Covid infections in the province, and that official infection data is likely to be highly skewed due to these variable levels of access to both healthcare and testing,” De Kadt says.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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