Cost of living skyrockets for domestic workers


The third annual SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Work in South Africa was released on 20 September paints a stark picture of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives of women striving to make a living as domestic workers. Compiled from almost 5 000 survey responses, overwhelmingly from women (97%), the report evidences a drastic reduction in food spending by 64% of respondents with 93% saying they are the main breadwinner in a home with children.

Commenting on the release of the report, SweepSouth co-founder and CEO, Dr Aisha Pandor said, “The results of this year’s survey are particularly pertinent, given the impact of the global pandemic and the impact on food security and nutrition among one of the most vulnerable sections of the labour force and their dependants. A lack of nutrition is linked to numerous underlying health issues in children that can last a lifetime and can trigger mental health problems in adults.

“Domestic workers are frequently the sole providers for their immediate and extended families, yet few were able to eke out a sufficient wage to support themselves and make ends meet. It’s hoped that the SweepSouth Report on Pay and Working Conditions for Domestic Work in South Africa will not only highlight the social and economic crises that countless numbers of underprivileged female workers are having to endure, but will also be a force for change in addressing the numerous injustices that are the lived reality for countless disadvantaged residents,” Pandor said.

Among the key findings this year:

● Severe risk of malnutrition in children, owing to 64% of respondents forced to reduce food spending, 90% of respondents being the main breadwinners and 94% of respondents living with and supporting children.
● There was a significant increase in the cost of living for domestic workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, namely:
○ Average monthly basic expenses increased by 34% to R4 225, with food costs up by 52% and school fees increasing by 65%. Significant increases in housing costs and electricity were also observed.

● Workers saw their earnings drop from 63% earning more than R2 500 per month pre- pandemic, to 74% earning less than R2 500 after the pandemic onset and lockdown.
● Workers with 5 financial dependants rose from 12% in 2019 to 17% this year, while those with 6 or more dependants rose from 14% to 20%.
● Underemployment increased, with 80% of workers reporting working fewer than 8 hours per day compared with 73% last year.
● The increase in the number of dependants and the closure of school feeding schemes likely fueled the significant increases in the cost of living over and above inflation.
● This resulted in:
○ 69% of workers being unable to pay rent, the majority of whom are required to catch up any missed payments
○ 46% increasing their level of debt

In addition, the SweepSouth report details the extent of increasing debt among domestic workers, as well as avenues of support and apparent discrepancies between South African and foreign workers when it comes to financial assistance from the government.

The report includes information on the basic needs and standards of living that aren’t being met in addition to the proportion of workers who can no longer afford to send their children to school. Also laid bare is the dire effect the lockdown has had on the psychology of respondents, with 57% reporting an impact on their mental health.

  • Report supplied by SweepSouth
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