14 Feb 2018

Demand for food parcels jumps 12 percent

5:25 am on 14 February 2018

The number of food parcels being handed out at the Salvation Army's foodbanks has jumped 12 percent in the last year, according to the organisation's latest State of the Nation report.

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Photo: Supplied

Between 2011 and 2016, the Salvation Army was handing out about 56,000 food parcels a year.

Last year, that number jumped to 63,000 - helping almost 32,000 families - and the report's author, Alan Johnson, said they were not exactly sure what's behind the increased demand.

"This occurred at about the same that the government started increasing budgets for emergency and supplementary assistance for people, around housing and other needs," he said.

"So at the same time the Ministry of Social Development got more generous, we had more people asking for assistance with food."

However, family budgets were under increasing stress and it was food that was being skimped on, Mr Johnson said.

"We think it is related to rising rents and the fact that families are being squeezed by rents that are running up to twice as fast as wage increases."

The manager of the Salvation Army's community services in Whangarei, Marlene Bowers, said the number of people coming through their doors had doubled in the new year.

People were desperate, she said.

"What's driving it up here, I see homelessness growing and it's high rents, families actually being able to stay in their homes."

No one who turned up hungry got turned away, Ms Bowers said.

"Their next best option if they can't get food from a food bank or if they don't have any entitlements left from Work and Income, they're going to go and steal it from somewhere."

It was not just the Salvation Army coping with increasing demands on its food bank.

'It's often mothers or women who are going without food'

Helen Robinson from the Auckland City Mission said in the last financial year, they handed out 13,000 food parcels, which they estimated fed around 50,000 hungry people.

The city mission was seeing a broader range of people coming in for help, she said.

"People on low incomes, people who have casual employment or irregular employment, people who are on benefits. Often, many of the people we are seeing are women and women raising families."

Some of the people coming to them for help had already tried to cut down their food spending, Ms Robinson said.

"A common story that we hear is that it's often mothers or women who are going without food, or less food, often they will be handing items like meat or vegetables to their children and that they will miss meals completely, or only serve a very small portion for themselves."

Desperation drives people to turn to food banks, Ms Robinson said.

"Hunger drives people here, people are only here because they need food, they're hungry."

Unlike other OECD countries, New Zealand did not measure food insecurity regularly, Ms Robinson said.

Organisations like the Auckland City Mission and the Salvation Army were trying to work together to get a better picture of the complex issues that lead to people going hungry, she said.

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