About half a million people are experiencing food insecurity, according to new research from the Auckland City Mission.
Food insecurity, or food poverty, is defined as not having enough appropriate food.
The City Mission said over the last few years, demand for food has continually and dramatically increased.
It said information about food insecurity in New Zealand was outdated and sparse, but its research estimates about 10 percent of the population is experiencing food insecurity.
The research was led by the mission's general manager of social services, Helen Robinson, and involved a survey of 650 people who had accessed the organisation's foodbank.
Predominantly, women were the face of food insecurity and were bearing the greatest burden of poverty.
Māori and Pasifika people were also over-represented amongst those living with food insecurity, the City Mission said.
The research found that nearly 40 percent of those surveyed have struggled to access enough appropriate food for themselves and their household for two years or more.
People who didn't have enough food were more likely to be emotionally unwell and were distressed some of the time.
The City Mission said food insecurity is linked to poverty, and once housing costs were paid, low-income individuals and families were often forced to choose between buying food and other essential costs.
When there wasn't enough money for food, people either ate poorly, or missed meals completely.
"They have no choice but to rely on foodbanks to provide them with enough food," the research said.
'There's just not enough money'
Ms Robinson said a lack of money was at the heart of the problem.
"We hear that people who are coming are very good at budgeting, are very capable at doing things, but that actually there's just not enough money coming inside the door."
Trevor McGlinchey from the Council of Christian Social Services said food poverty was not just affecting Aucklanders.
Groups around the country are telling him that demand for food is growing.
"An organisation that may have been distributing 100 food parcels a month five years ago today will be distributing 200 to 300 food parcels a month."
Mr McGlinchey said when money was tight, food always came last.
"People always pay their rent, they pay their power, they fix up their car if they need it to get to work and back and at the end of the day, the thing that there's nothing left for is food."
Ms Robinson said it was women who bore the brunt of it.
"If you are a single mother in New Zealand, you are more than likely to be in that group who really are struggling to be food secure."
The City Mission has called for action in four areas:
- Hold an annual survey to gather information about how adults and children are affected by food insecurity
- Develop a national food strategy giving vision and direction, cohesion and coordination to ensure everyone has enough appropriate food
- Consider women-oriented interventions, such as raising the level of the sole parent support payment, and providing further financial assistance to women raising children
- Raise income levels.