Dramatic surge in demand for food aid

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Warkworth Christian Foodlink has reported a dramatic surge in the demand for emergency food aid in the Mahurangi area.

In the first six months of this year, the number of food parcels distributed was 25 per cent higher than last year.

Foodlink manager Roger Mackay says in first four months of the year, Foodlink distributed 40 per cent more parcels than last year. Things stabilised in May and June, but the figures for those months are still higher than last year.     

Meanwhile, Loaves & Fishes, a foodbank based in Wellsford, reports requests for parcels to be only slightly higher than at the same time last year, but demand in recent years is already running at historically high levels.    

Coordinator Irene Rockell says demand for parcels jumped 55 per cent in 2017 and continues to increase. Chair of Warkworth Rotary/Lions Food Rescue, Terry Nuthall, which secures surplus food from supermarkets and other sources to supply Foodlink and other emergency food services, says the services are all telling the same story.

“Everything that comes in goes out now. We really don’t store much stuff because there is a need out there,” he says.  

The numbers come as no surprise to Homebuilders Family Support Services coordinator Quentin Jukes who says the increase in the need for food aid mirrors the increased number of people seeking assistance from Homebuilders, which identifies many of the beneficiaries for Foodlink parcels.

Mr Jukes says the continued high cost of housing is the main driver for those seeking food assistance.

He adds that food often gets pushed down the list of priorities when times get tough for struggling families.

The first bills that are paid tend to be rent or the mortgage, after that it’s the power bill and then paying the cost of getting to work.

“Food is usually well down on the list. Then people cut back on the quality of what they are eating and then the amount they are eating,” he says.

Mr Jukes says it does not help that accommodation costs in Warkworth can be as high as central Auckland and even more affordable areas, such as Wellsford, still have among the most expensive housing in the country.

Mr Jukes says the most vulnerable include anyone on a benefit and anyone in part-time or low-paid work.

He says if the lower wage earners are paying around $500 a week in rent, it’s easy to see why they might be struggling to buy food.

Ms Rockell agrees that housing costs are a big factor, especially when tenants have to move home and need to find bond money. She adds that many seeking parcels have been living too close to the breadline for too long, making them less and less resilient to any financial setback.

Mr Jukes says to reverse the trend there needs to be a dramatic increase in social housing and for those on low incomes to be paid a living wage.

He adds that the Government needs to implement changes recommended by its own Welfare Expert Advisory Group (WEAG) back in May. He says WEAG basically said benefits were insufficient to live on and substantial increases were needed across the board.

However, immediately after the release of the WEAG report, Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni said the Government had no plans to boost benefits in the short term.  

“We have decided not to implement the report’s recommendations to increase benefit levels by up to 47 per cent immediately. As we have said, we will be looking at a staged implementation of the report,” she said.

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