Feeding a family on minimum wage

The topic of an increased minimum wage has sparked fierce debate. The issue is by no means simple. On one hand, the proposed minimum wage of R3500 is scarcely sufficient to cover nutritious food for a small family, much less accommodation or transport. On the other, with unemployment now sitting at more than 26%, there are real concerns that by raising the minimum wage we risk reducing the number of jobs on offer.

In their Food Price Barometer, PACSA (Pietermaritzburg Agencry for Community Social Action) has revealed a 16.7% increase year-on-year in the price of a basic ‘food basket’ from October 2015 to October 2016. The food basket is the average food spend of a low income household in a month.

According to PACSA, this food basket is not even nutritionally sufficient and in order for a low-income family of 7 to eat nutritiously, it would cost a minimum of R4197.31.

StatsSA’s latest Labour Market Dynamics Survey (2015) puts the median monthly earnings for black South Africans sits at just R2900.

In short, nutritious eating is not feasible for those living on the current minimum wage.

The impacts of malnutrition are well-documented. Children who are unable to learn at school, low immunity to contagious illnesses and an increase in non-communicable diseases all further burden an already overwrought health system while further impeding education outcomes and, ultimately, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

While the minimum wage debate ensues, the implementation of such an increase would only be fully implemented by mid-2019.

In the meantime, malnourishment continues. It is hoped that responsible employers would endeavor to determine wages not by the bare minimum, but rather according to what their employees and their families can reasonably be expected to live on.