by Judith Kaulem
When we talk about development, we are confronted by a series of figures; growth rate (GDP, GNP etc), inflation, poverty datum line… and the list goes on. Hardly do we, as generators and users of such terminology stop and reflect on what they mean to the ordinary man and woman on the streets – that is if they mean anything at all.
As the Poverty Reduction Trust Forum (PRFT), we challenged ourselves in 2010 and asked how these figures and economic terms could be translated into something visible, touchable and which related to the day-to-day lived experiences of the ordinary person in Zimbabwe. We wanted to find a way of putting a human face to the Math. Ultimately, we wanted to find a simple but comprehensive way of measuring families and/or households’ living conditions: what basic needs they require in a month and how they afford them.
Inspired by the work of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection in Zambia, the PRFT introduced the urban Basic Needs Basket (BNB) survey in two high-density suburbs in Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. The BNB is a tool we use to understand poverty and inequality from a more individual point of view. We use it to describe the minimum – or basics – needed by an average family of five members to live with dignity in Zimbabwe.
What the BNB has revealed to us is the painful inequalities that exist within Zimbabwean society.
When we asked the households to put the list of the basic food and non-food items they would require in a month it just got me thinking and questioning my own choices. As they discussed in hushed tones among themselves, they finally agreed and put into their basket mealie-meal, rice, salt, sugar, cooking oil, bread, dried fish, laundry soap –all in very moderate quantities – as well as access to health care and education as basic necessities.
This basket would on average cost US$540.00 monthly.
Most families’ household monthly incomes, generated from informal trading activities, are on average US$100… sometimes less.
The households were modest in their needs and realistic to their lived experience. However, based on their household incomes, most of the families still could not (and increasingly continue to fail to) afford this basic basket.
The BNB has made me reflect on my own lifestyle. My monthly basket would include rice, macaroni/spaghetti, cheese, bacon, eggs, beef (the quality cuts), fabric softener and other unnecessary niceties. The BNB has opened my eyes and I have challenged myself whether I really need some of the items I buy every month, let alone question the health benefits/risks I bring upon myself in the name of a “high life”.
I know I am not alone in this misplaced use of very limited resources and we at PRFT are using the BNB to constantly challenge the Zimbabwean population to reflect on what we spend our money on at an individual level. We also use the BNB to monitor the social and economic policies so that they respond to the needs of the poor.
In a country like Zimbabwe where the poverty datum line is estimated at US$550 and the minimum wages are between US$100-US300, it might be difficult to argue for a living wage. However, there are some executives who on average net US$25,000 monthly.
The BNB helps us as an observatory tool that consistently measures the quality of life indicators such as people’s ability to have food, good health care and education and improved levels of service delivery. I have realized that if everyone made a conscious effort to change their lifestyle patterns, the available resources can be re-distributed in a manner that accords everyone a decent standard of living.
SO WHAT NEXT?
We’re doing a series of articles looking at a living wage. Have a read of the previous few and watch out for one more coming next week. Here are some ideas for what you could do differently in response…
- If you employ someone in your home or at work, commit to paying them the living wage.*
- If you know someone who is an employer, commit to talking to them about paying a living wage in 2017.
- If you don’t know what the living wage is in your country, make it your mission to find out and actively talk to others about it. A valuable step would be for employers to have conversations with their employees about what their living expenses are.
*If you’re SA based use the living wage calculator mentioned in the last blog to calculate what it is, if UK based have a read of Jess, from the Living Wage Foundation’s blog for more. Otherwise if you’re from another country and you know what the living wage is there, please post it below for others
About the author: Judith Kaulem is the Executive Director for the Poverty Reduction Forum Trust in Zimbabwe (www.prftzim.org) Twitter:@PRFTZim. Having lived most of her life in Zimbabwe, she has witnessed how the country’s economic melt-down has widened the gap between the haves and have-nots and the dehumanizing impacts of poverty. She is always advocating for development that puts people at the centre.