COVID & Economic Collapse: A new reality in South Africa – we can’t pay our bills


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New data from TransUnion shows that the number of South African consumers who have been financially impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic climbed again towards the end of last year, just prior to the onset of the second wave of infections.

Following several months of stagnation, the percentage of consumers financially impacted by Covid-19 increased to 82%, despite most industries being fully operational. This is up 3 percentage points from last report and down only 2 percentage points from the highest level (84%) in June.

Worryingly, 37% of those impacted have had their work hours reduced, the largest percentage working in the retail, information technology, financial services and manufacturing industries.

Eighteen percent of impacted consumers report they have lost their jobs, just 3 percentage points from the highest level reported in August (21%) and substantially higher than April (10%), the consumer credit reporting agency found.

More than half (52%) of those who report they have lost their jobs are millennials, while 40% of consumers who report job loss are from Gauteng, and many are from the retail, construction, educational services and restaurant / food services industries.

Concern among impacted consumers about their ability to pay their bills and loans remains high at 84%, with almost 1 in 3 impacted consumers (31%) expecting to run into a shortfall within one month (+2 pp).

On average, R7,069 is the amount consumers expect they will be short when paying bills or loans.

Credit products remain the bills and loans consumers most often indicate they will not be able to pay, with personal loans (37%), retail/clothing store account (32%) and credit card bills (32%) ranked in the top three, TransUnion said.

Consumers have been making changes to their household budget since the beginning of the pandemic to better cope with decreases in their household income. In December, 59% of impacted consumers indicated they have cut back on discretionary spending, 43% have cancelled subscriptions or memberships, and 33% have cancelled or reduced digital services.

To manage household finances, consumers are increasingly cutting back on saving for retirement (+4 pp to 26%, the highest level reported to date). Two-thirds of households (66%) expect to spend less on dining out, travel and entertainment purchases in the next three months, TransUnion said.

What bills and loans are you concerned about your ability to pay?

What has changed in your household budget during the Covid-19 pandemic?

A significant percentage of consumers continue to indicate they are using money from savings (35%). While this creates a short-term cash flow position, there are longer-term macro-economic consequences to this approach, including a shift in retirement age and potential assistance at retirement as personal savings have eroded during the crisis.

A quarter of respondents report they plan to borrow money from friends or family to pay bills and loans. When further broken down, 57% plan to borrow from family members other than parents, 48% from parents, 47% from friends and 8% from a crowdfunding site.

This online survey of 1,100 adults in South Africa was conducted 1-3 December 2020 by TransUnion in partnership with third-party research provider Qualtrics Research-Services.


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