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The poor spend most of their income on food

Aug 23 2017 06:00
Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg – Poor households spend most (30%) of their income on food, compared to non-poor households which only spend 10.5%, data from Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) revealed.

According to StatsSA’s Poverty trends report for the years between 2006 and 2015, the average household expenditure in the country came to R103 293, up 34% from 2006. This is 75% of an average household income of R138 168.

The data also indicated that nine out of 10 households had access to electricity in 2015, 75.6% reported having piped water and 64.2% had flushed toilets. The average household size was 3.3 members.

READ: More than 50% of SA’s population is living in poverty

According to population groups, black Africans’ average annual expenditure increased 62.1% from 2006 to R67 828. While household expenditure by coloureds increased 53.8% to R124 445. The Indian/Asian group increased their expenditure by 37.4% to R195 336 and the white population’s expenditure grew 29.2% to R350 937.

Despite the 62.1% increase in expenditure by black households, the expenditure of white households was five times as much.

Statistician General Pali Lehohla said that the “distance” between income and expenditure of black households was so close, nothing was left for saving.

Poor households, which have an average annual income of R46 624 had an average annual expenditure of R31 699, or 68% of their income. This is a fifth of the average annual expenditure of non-poor households which is R151 097.

The majority of spend by non-poor households went towards housing and utilities (44%), according to the report.

Poor households are almost twice the size of average households with 4.6 members, compared to non-poor households with 2.4 members on average. The income of non-poor households is five times more than that of poor households, which have to support more members with little income.

Lehohla explained that the spend on food by poor households was mainly on starch or breads and cereals (33.9%), followed by meat and fish (24.5%), fruits and vegetables (11.8%) and milk cheese and eggs (8.1%).

READ: Even in the best democracies statisticians are not safe - Pali Lehohla

This differs to the proportion of spend by non-poor households, which spend most on meat and fish (32.1%), followed by breads and cereals (20.3%), fruits and vegetables (12.4%)  and milk cheese and eggs (11%).


“This information we have here, crystallises the situation we have in South Africa,” said Lehohla.

Gender of household

There was also a difference in the expenditure based on the gender of the household head. Expenditure by male-headed households came to R121 363, more than the R77 671 average spend of female-headed households.

Generally, male-headed households had higher expenditure levels across all expenditure groups. Male-headed households reported an average income of R165 853, compared to the average household income of R138 168. Female-headed houses reported an average income of R98 911.

In 2015, there were more male-headed households than female-headed households. Female-headed households had an average size of 3.36 members. Male-headed households had an average size of 3.25 members. 

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