“I would not have imagined that the need would still be as great”

No let-up in demand for foodbank service

2006. While the Lower Hutt foodbank gave thanks for its 20 years in the community at a mid-week service at St. James Anglican Church, the use of foodbanks continued to increase in some areas of New Zealand.

The service, attended by friends, supporters, and the Lower Hutt Mayor, featured foodbank co-ordinator Glenda Barratt and former co-ordinator Chris Wood as speakers.

“I would not have imagined that the need would still be as great or that, unfortunately, an end to the suffering of some of our families would seem such a long way off,” Ms Barratt said.

“There is another side to life also that would cause some to shake their heads in disbelief and to wonder how families exist from day to day as they live in poverty and debt load so horrendous that it seems they will never recover.”

The foodbank is under the umbrella of the Hutt City Uniting Congregations (Methodist and Presbyterian) which assists in applying for funding. Ms Barratt said they were grateful to the Hutt City Council for enabling to continue when they could have closed shop because of resource matters.

Despite a robust economy over the last five years, demand for foodbank services has increased in some areas, although some families who are (or were) on benefits have profited from the good economic conditions.

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services poverty indicator project recorded that the number of foodbank users fell by 25 percent between 2001 and 2004.

However, in a 2005 report Hard to Swallow: Foodbank use in New Zealand, Donna Wynd of the Child Poverty Action Group, said it was the Manakau Salvation Army foodbank that recorded a reduction in the council survey because of a change of policy, and this was not typical. Other foodbanks reported increases.

The number of food parcels given out by the Auckland City Mission more than doubled since 1996. A similar nationwide trend was difficult to confirm because information was fragmented and anecdotal and resulted in a mixed picture.

According to the report, though, Howick, Christchurch City Mission, Southland, Wairarapa, and Waitakere, have seen an increase of food parcels being handed out, but strong economic growth in Auckland had helped some get off the foodbank queue. One South Auckland foodbank halved their demand for food parcels between 2004 and 2005.

It was not only those on benefits who received foodbank assistance but those working, on low incomes. Figures suggested that some on welfare had transferred onto a low-paying job and lack of income was found as the key determinant in using foodbanks. Many were unable to meet their living expenses.

Typical users of foodbanks were sole parent and single person households. Fifty percent of the households had children. Maori were “over-represented”. Most agencies reported that more clients than in the past presented multiple and complex problems.

The numbers of users at the Lower Hutt foodbank have remained steady for a decade. It caters for about three thousand families a year. Ms Barratt said they would have hoped to have seen a decrease over the years. Clients’ issues are high power bills, petrol costs, continuing debt, and low income.

“Most are actively looking for work, but in some cases the wage they would be earning is not enough to meet their payments and so sets in despondency at even applying for jobs,” Ms Barratt said.

“Many are families that are given the care of their siblings and even though they do receive the extra income from Work and Income, it is often not enough to feed, clothe and supply for the extra bodies.”

She said early education was important for young people, such as how to feed oneself on a meagre budget and allocate for daily living.

“I don’t think being on the dole is enough for the older person. It is easy to hand out the money, but many have lost their will to work through differing reasons and they need to be taught ‘how’ to work or how to apply themselves.

“Perhaps if everyone who was able-bodied could be given work to do in return for their benefit money it might reconstitute a desire to get out there and do something.

“It seems that although the Government is trying different tactics, there is not a lot working to get this right.”

By Peter Veugelaers

Published 2006, Challenge Weekly

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