Earning Wages Into a Bag of Holes: The Cost of Living Crisis in Ghana
While the wealthiest people and companies continue to thrive, recent crises have caused huge setbacks in the fight against poverty and hunger, cuts to jobs and wages, and a fiscal squeeze that threatens the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. For the first time in 25 years, extreme wealth and extreme poverty have sharply increased simultaneously. In 2020, over 70 million additional people were pushed into extreme poverty (living on less than $2.15 per day), an 11% rise.
Patience Opoku-Gyimah will soon have to make a destiny call.
She will have to choose between staying the course of providing essential care to Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) patients and migrating overseas to do care work.
“I know that when you travel outside, [I] can get home care [work]. Then I can take care of all my dependents; that is my children and my mother. That is my aim,” says Patience (37), a nurse who attends to patients with SCD. SCD is a blood disorder disease that is prevalent in some parts of Africa and among some populations of African descent. Patience’s skill set is very much needed in the health delivery system in Ghana.
The rising cost of living has driven Patience to consider the migration option.
“I can’t really cope,” says Patience who has three (3) children between the ages of five (5) and (2). She also looks after her mother. Patience earns about 1,300 Cedis (equivalent of USD $108) a month.
Patience illustrates the increased cost of living with a basic dish: Kenkey and fish: “At first, it was 1 cedi (USD $ 0.083), but now it has increased to 4 Cedis (USD $ 0.33) and you have to buy 8 Cedis (USD $ 0.66) fish. You can’t talk about rice and stew. For rice and stew, you have to spend 20 Cedis (USD $ 1.65). I cannot afford to spend 20 Cedis every day for 5 days”
Her landlord has increased her rent from 2,000 Cedis (USD $165.29) to 3,000 Cedis (USD $ 247.93) and her daily school expenditure for her children has increased to 300 Cedis (USD $ 24.79).
“Now I live at the expense of people’s help. I’m worse off; looking at my pay, transportation, looking at my dependants and children, I live by grace. I live by the help of people,” Patience elaborates on how she is coping.
Patience initially had a side hustle that initially supplemented her income, but would not go back to it, after she experienced tragedy. She used to sell clothes online, her husband made the deliveries with a motor bike. It was on one of those delivery trips that he had a fatal accident which led to his death.
Even when Patience was a child, the people around her knew that she had an innate desire to help people to feel better when they were sick.
Patience works at Ghana’s Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. About 2 kilometres away in the fishing community of Chemunaa, Emmanuel Ayitey, an artisanal fisherman, grapples with how to keep his fishing business afloat. Emmanuel owns four (4) canoes and there are so many mouths the fishing business feeds. Each fishing canoe engages between 8 and 15 men for each fishing expedition.
“If prices keep escalating at this rate, we have to stop the business and look for alternatives,” Emmanuel speaks of his reality.
Presently, he spends an average of 3,000 cedis (USD $ 247.93) on fuel for each canoe. Most times, they come back without any catch. In the past they had relied on a subsidised fuel formula which cost 700 Cedis (USD $ 57.85) per trip to fuel a boat. Generally, fish stocks have declined, and many canoe owners like Emmanuel are used to losses because of unsuccessful fishing expeditions- it comes with the business. But now, a trip that yields no catch is very costly because of the steep increase in fuel prices in the past year.
“The industry is in decline, there are no dividends, but because we’ve been in it all our lives, we cannot run from it. We are dying, we cannot cope,” Emmanuel says.
Emmanuel is financing his fishing business from investments he has made in other sectors.
Nii Okai Tagoe, a fisherman at Chemunaa, Accra has been redundant for two (2) weeks. The previous week, he had been on multiple fishing expeditions that were not successful. The canoe owner, does not want to burn fuel without return, so they have not gone back to sea for another week. Nii Okai’s episode illustrates the reality of the men who work on the canoes.
The escalating prices are having a ripple effect on the wives of the fisher folk.
Gladys Hammond is one of two wives of Emmanuel and been processing fish for the last fifteen years. For the last six months, she has not processed fish because of the steep increases in fuel prices. Her redundancy is having a telling effect on her six (6) children.
The fishing industry is on the verge of collapse, so when their children finish high school, they have to find work, whilst they wait for better times, when the family gets money to fund their tertiary education.
“With the younger children, you cannot allow them to drop out of school, so we borrow to keep them in school,” she says.
It’s not only the fisher folk who are bearing the brunt of the steep fuel price increases. Richard Opare is an Uber driver.
“Previously, I used to buy 80 cedis (USD $ 6.61) daily and will make 200 cedis (USD $ 16.53). Now I buy 200 cedis (USD $ 16.53) and I can barely make 250 cedis (USD $ 20.66).” Richard explains.
Richard can only hope for now to receive some money when his car rental services are required in an arrangement he has with a client once a year.
Vincent Reiss Ahlijah is a public servant who lives in one of Accra’s suburbs of Oyibi. He has a side hustle, a stationery store, but he is not immune to the effects of the cost of living crisis.
“I had to add a small business to supplement my income, but still it is not easy. It is generally difficult, they don’t buy as they used to. Things are not very good,” Vincent Ahlijah laments.
His two streams of income notwithstanding, the costs of living coupled with the price of his dream- a university degree which he underwrote with a loan- are limiting his options in more ways than one. Monthly payments to service his debt and investment premiums swallow about 1,000 cedis (USD $ 82.64) out of his remuneration package, a figure of 2,000 cedis (USD $ 165.29). He is required to pay the school fees of his son, which amount to 850 cedis (USD $ 70.25) per term, pay rents on his accommodation, foot utility bills, and give his wife a monthly stipend to cater for domestic feeding and toiletries, all out of the half left of his salary. He comments that even the 500 cedi (USD $ 41.32) stipend that he gives to his wife is now not enough to feed them through the month. The stationery shop, however is also not generating as much revenue as Vincent used to receive in the past, as people are patronising the store less in their effort to reduce their expenditure.
Faced also with the response of his rental house proprietor to the economic situation- a steep upward review in rents, Vincent remarks, “in order to stay within my means, I have to move to a lesser [cheaper] place,” This move will also save him a cost of 70 cedis (USD $ 5.79) a week, which is what he currently pays for his son to join a bus to school. This is because of the proximity of his new accommodation to his son’s school.
Vincent hopes that he can obtain a Masters degree in the IT sphere to earn him a promotion at work, which will come with a pay raise, and expand his bookshop to increase his income, but these are all forlorn hopes for as long as the increasing costs of living continue to throttle his wallet.