Rising costs of food and basic household items continue to increase the cost of living, making it harder for low wage earners.
For Blantyre-based Harold Ballman, who doubles as a garden boy and a guard, the K65 000 he gets monthly is way below the K223 460 cost of living threshold.
He observes that charcoal alone eats up about K27 000 of his monthly income as his family uses three plastic bags each costing K300 per day.
Ballman said: “I double as a garden boy and a guard and get paid K65 000 every month excluding tax. When I pay house rent and other basic essentials it, is God who sees me through the entire month,” says Ballman, a father of four.
“With maize now at as high as K18 500 per 50 kilogramme (kg), taking out this much out of my income leaves me with very little for our survival. I am forced to find extra piecework, including on weekends just to earn additional money to support my family. It is not easy but I have no choice.”
A study by Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) shows rising food prices recorded in last three months have pushed up the cost of living— the cost of maintaining a certain standard of living— by 15 percent, pushing more Malawians to poverty. The December 2019 to February 2020 figures compiled by the Lilongwe- based institution through its Basic Needs Basket (BNB) analysis indicate that the cost of living increased from K194 000 during harvesting period to K223 460 during the lean period.
In a write up accompanying the BNB analysis, CfSC economic governance programme officer Bernard Mphepo says the level of income for the average Malawian is below minimum requirements for the cost of food items and cost of living.
He says: “With the government set minimum wage of K35 000 per month and a tax-free-band of K45 000, employed Malawians have limited disposable income.
“Our studies reveal that the majority of Malawians receive a net income of less than K100 000 which is below the food poverty line of K100 000 per month and below the living wage,” says Mphepo.
Despite earlier assurances from government that the country had a maize surplus in the 2018/19 growing season, prices of the grain have remained stubbornly high since July last year.
Maize, Malawi’s staple crop, traditionally impacts the country’s economy given its skewed influence in determining inflation rates.
The country’s headline inflation, which remained in the single digits for a greater part of 2019, rose to double digits towards the end of last year.
A senior lecturer at Chancellor College’s Economics Department Exley Silumbu observed that people have been forced to dig deeper in their pockets to address the situation and use money that could ideally have been channeled to other meaningful needs, thereby pushing them further into poverty.
Catholic University economist Gilbert Kachamba says maize scarcity has lead to price increases and in turn affects the cost of living based on the measures of inflation. “However it is high time we change the weights of some items in the consumer basket food is over weighted because this does not work better with urban cost of living,” he said.