Against a background of high levels of existing poverty, the cost of living continues to increase as incomes, social services and work opportunities have stagnated and even declined globally and in South Africa, creating a harsh situation where the majority of families cannot afford to lead decent lives, and food protests increase internationally. And yet income inequality continues to grow, increasing the gaps between rich and poor, and worker and bosses.

It is in this context that the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) in partnership with the Association of Community-based Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA), decided to re- launch its Basic Needs Basket research programme in South Africa in mid- 2014. The Basic Needs Basket is a monthly survey of the cost of essential food and non- food items that comprise the items that a low income family deem necessary. It is important to note that the BNB only monitors prices of the most common pack size purchased and not the actual quantities required for an average sized household [1].

Causes of the problem that the project will address

Sound social and economic policies are empty without information. This was a challenge that the founding trustees of SPII observed having come from civil society and the trade union sector. They were concerned about the apparent absence of new data and knowledge that was being generated for use by campaigns and submissions that were being generated by the sector. Therefore, through these types of innovative approaches and partnerships, SPII seeks to transform or deepen current approaches to advancing the well-being of people most affected by poverty and inequality, specifically by civil society and oversight bodies such as the South African Human Rights Commission and Parliament.


The Basic Needs Basket project follows on baseline studies conducted by SPII wherein SPII conducted Household Expenditure Surveys in two independent peri-urban townships.  The first was done in Vosloorus Township, in the East Rand, and the second in Evaton Township in the Vaal region of Gauteng between 2009 and 2011.  The latter survey was done in collaboration with StatsSA. At the core of the surveys was the desire to develop an applied understanding of what poor people believe constitute basic needs towards a standard of living that enables people to live a life of dignity in line with the Constitution of the South Africa, and thereafter to monitor the price fluctuations on these items to provide an alternative analysis of the real inflation impact on low spenders.

In the current South African context, what constitutes basic needs is not clearly articulated. Existing sources of information from government institutions and other research institutions conduct  broad and often complex analyses which are often too technical or too simplified and therefore in both cases do not articulate in an accessible manner what is happening on the ground.

Why Price Monitoring?

Specifically, in the spirit of exposing the plight of the poor and raising their concerns, the SPII Basic Needs Basket Project monitors the prices or cost of 39 out of 46 goods and services on a monthly basis in all the 9 Provinces in South Africa.

The remainder are service related which include electricity; housing; education (primary & secondary) and health are either monitored on a quarterly or annual basis as these do not fluctuate frequently.

In each province prices are monitored by members of advice offices in both rural and urban areas.

Prices are monitored in different types of outlets to reflect where most people in the particular areas regularly purchase their goods (see pie chart).

Price monitoring is important for a number of reasons, mainly;

  • The fact that the average person is struggling to afford even the most basic of monthly commodities and the varying geometry in terms of poverty and inequality across different provinces.
  • That the BNB exposes this household struggle to meet basic needs by comparing the findings with average take-home wages and general household incomes; and
  • By working in tandem with Community Based Organisation (CBOs), it is envisaged that information from this BNB work will provide CBOs with easy access information to inform their advocacy and campaign work and also addressing cross cutting issues such as gender, HIV, malnutrition and health in general.

[1] Average household quantities consumed form part of the work that we are currently looking into under the Decent Living Levels project.