Auckland, August 16, 2018
Tens of thousands of families are seeking government help to put food on the table.
Official figures from the Ministry of Social Development show that 26,432 more hardship grants for food were given out compared to the June quarter last year, bringing the total to 137,424 grants between March and June this year.
Food is consistently the main reason for needing hardship assistance, MSD’s report said.
“Most of the value of grants provided is either for accommodation related costs (excluding Emergency Housing) or food assistance,” it said.
Food insecurity should not be a normal part of life, especially for children, the Child Poverty Action Group said.
“It is not only severe, but it is widespread,” its spokesperson and Professor of Health Economics at the University of Auckland, Toni Ashton, said.
“And it is not only for beneficiary families, it’s for working families.”
The figures may just be the tip of the iceberg as many families could feel too ashamed to seek help or could not due to difficulty of access, she said.
“There is an awful lot of people out there that are not getting help.”
Erosion of wages and benefits
The gradual erosion of wages and benefits over the last 10 years had pushed people into hardship, she said.
“While we are getting a few increases in some areas, it is just making up for losses in the past – there is no catch-up. All the time it’s like walking on a treadmill and not getting anywhere,” Ms Ashton said.
Poverty affects children the most, Ms Ashton said.
“It is children whose future is going to be impacted by this in terms of their ability to grow and their ability to learn.”
Ms Ashton said that eliminating sanctions on beneficiaries, particularly solo mothers, and altering the working for families criteria would help alleviate hardship.
Extending the In-Work Tax Credit to all families irrespective of their source of income, would put another $72.50 a week into their pockets, she said.
Opportunities to help
Ms Ashton said there is more willingness and sympathy within in the new government to fix these kinds of issues.
“There are some opportunities – let us grab them. There is a hunger crisis,” she said.
Last week, the Auckland City Mission said it had distributed 15,879 emergency food parcels during the last year, nearly 3000 more than the previous 12 months.
That is a 22% increase and the highest in its 98-year history, Auckland City Mission chief executive Chris Farrelly said.
“There is a hunger crisis in our country. Our work in this area shows that food is a discretionary item in the budget of low-income New Zealanders. Someone with an income of $500 a week and expenses of $480 will only have $20 left for food, and if an emergency occurs, that money will get squeezed. This means people are unable to afford enough appropriate, quality food, and find they need to ask for emergency food assistance.
“It is a major source of shame and stress for these families,” Ms Ashton said.
Eva Corlett is a Reporter at Radio New Zealand. Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Picture under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz
Photo for RNZ by Alexander Robertson