Author/s: Katharine HallDate: March 2022
This indicator shows the number and share of children living in households that are income-poor.
Four different poverty lines are used:
This indicator shows the number and share of children living in households that are income-poor. As money is needed to access a range of services, income poverty is often closely related to poor health, reduced access to education and physical environments that compromise personal safety.
International law and the Constitution recognise the link between income and the realisation of basic human rights and acknowledge that children have the right to social assistance (social grants) when families cannot meet children’s basic needs. Income poverty measures are therefore important for determining how many people need social assistance, and for evaluating the state’s progress in realising the right to social assistance and in reducing poverty.
No poverty line is perfect. Using a single income measure tells us nothing about how resources are distributed between family members, or how money is spent. But this measure does give some indication of how many children are living in households with severely constrained resources.
The measure used is the Statistics South Africa “upper-bound” poverty line, set at R779 per person per month in 2011 prices. Poverty lines increase with inflation and in 2019 the real value of the upper-bound line was R1227.1 Per capita income is calculated by adding all reported income for household members older than 15 years, and social grants received by anyone in the household, and dividing the total household income by the number of household members.
Statistics South Africa proposed two other poverty lines:
A “lower-bound” poverty line is calculated by adding to the food poverty line the average expenditure on essential non-food items by households whose food expenditure is below but close to the food poverty line. The value of the lower-bound poverty line in 2011 prices was R501 per person per month (R810 in 2019 prices). Those living below this line would not be able to pay for the minimum non-food expenses or would be sacrificing their basic nutrition in order to pay for non-food expenses.
A “food” poverty line is based on the cost of the minimum nutritional requirement of 2,100 kilocalories per person per day, without any allowance for non-food basic necessities. The value of the food poverty line in 2011 prices was R335 per person per month (R561 in 2019). Anyone living below this line will be malnourished and their health and survival will be at risk.
We use the upper-bound poverty line as our main indicator for tracking child poverty as this is linked to the minimum requirement for basic nutrition as well as other basic needs such as clothing and shelter. In other words, this is the only poverty line that meets the minimum requirement for children’s basic needs.
South Africa has very high rates of child poverty. In 2019, 56% of children lived below the upper-bound poverty line. Income poverty rates have fallen substantially since 2003, when 78% (14.1 million) children were defined as “poor” at this income threshold. The reduction in the child poverty headcount is partly the result of a massive expansion in the reach of the Child Support Grant over the same period. Although there have been reductions in the child poverty rate, large numbers of children still live in poverty: in 2019, 11.2 million children lived below the upper-bound poverty line.
There are substantial differences in poverty rates across the provinces. Using the upper-bound poverty line, nearly three-quarters of children in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo are poor, and child poverty rates are also high in the Free State, Mpumalanga, North West and KwaZulu-Natal (all over 60%). Gauteng and the Western Cape have the lowest child poverty rates – at 35% and 27% respectively. Child poverty remains most prominent in the rural areas of the former homelands, where 76% of children are below the poverty line. The urban child poverty rate, by contrast, is 41%.
There are glaring racial disparities in income poverty: while 61% of African children lived in poor households in 2019, and 33% of Coloured children were defined as poor, only 5% of White children lived below this poverty line. There are no significant differences in child poverty levels across gender or between different age groups in the child population.
Using Statistics South Africa’s lower-bound poverty line (which does not provide enough for basic essentials), 44% of children (8.9 million) were poor in 2019, and 33% (6.6 million children) were below the food poverty line, meaning that they were not getting enough nutrition.
The international ultra-poverty line used to track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is $1.90 per person per day. This translated to R385 per person per month in 2018, using the IMF purchasing power parity conversion. This poverty line is extremely low – below survival level – and is not appropriate for South Africa. No child should be below it. In 2003, 52% of children (9.3 million) lived below the equivalent of the SDG poverty line. By 2019, this decreased to 22% but was still high in real numbers (4.3 million).
The Sustainable Development Goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and set the global agenda for development by 2030. Target 1.1 is to eradicate extreme poverty using the same international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day. Target 1.2 is that by 2030 countries should reduce by at least half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions, according to national definitions. In terms of income poverty, this would mean reducing the number of children below the upper-bound poverty line by at least 6 million, from a baseline of 12.2 million in 2015.
1 Statistics South Africa (2021) National Poverty Lines. Statistical Release no. P0310.1. Pretoria: Statistics South Africa.