Increased hunger in the land of plenty could be easily solved

Families going without food on a regular basis is dangerously on the verge of becoming normal in Aotearoa-New Zealand - and the problem doesn’t seem to be easing since recent tax credit and Accommodation Supplement increases.

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) says that more needs to be done to support our families, for whom recent increases were little more than a catch up for years of eroded supports.

The Auckland City Mission reported on Tuesday that it had distributed 15,879 emergency food parcels over the past 12 months - a huge increase from 12,753 in the previous year.

“That’s a 22 per cent increase and the highest in our 98-year history,” said Auckland City Missioner, Chris Farrelly.

Mr Farrelly said that families are unable to afford enough appropriate, quality food, and as a result are needing emergency food assistance, which is major source of shame.

“Increased demand on food parcel services is evidence of the heightened community distress that requires urgent and sustained relief by way of much more adequate support from the State,” says Professor Toni Ashton, CPAG health spokesperson.

“It is probably only the tip of the iceberg as many families may not be able to access help in the form of food parcels, or for others feelings of shame may prevent them seeking charity relief.”

The latest report from the Ministry of Social Development shows that the number of hardship assistance grants provided were 321,244 in the June 2018 quarter, worth a combined total of  $88.1 million. This is an increase from 267,374 grants in the same period last year.

The report states that:

Food has consistently remained the main reason for needing hardship assistance. The demand for food assistance has also been growing over the last few quarters, and has been one of the leading contributors to the growth in hardship assistance. Most of the value of grants provided is either for accommodation related costs (excluding Emergency Housing) or food assistance. (MSD, 2018, p6)

“Food insecurity should not be a normal part of everyday life for children,” says Professor Ashton.  

“Hunger affects their ability to grow and to learn, and may have lifelong effects on their physical and mental health. We need a much more robust system and range of supports for low-income families who are on benefits and for those who are working, so that they can meet their everyday needs without the added stress of having to go and ask for grants and food parcels from WINZ and other charities. Removal of benefit sanctions that entrench poverty should be an immediate response to this level of crisis, not to be postponed.

“Another response to alleviating the need among many families would be for the Government to remove the criteria from the Working for Families In-Work Tax Credit that discriminates against beneficiary families, and those who don’t work the right number of hours to qualify.”

CPAG says that by extending the IWTC to all families irrespective of their source of income, they would be at least $72.50 a week better off. Damaging sanctions that reduce family income and contribute to food insecurity should be removed immediately.

“Both of these recommendations are effective, affordable solutions that should be expedited into policy.”

Photo credit: amswphotography