Salvation Army report finds social needs increasing in all areas

7:01 am on 27 November 2020

The Salvation Army says the government needs to lift the core benefits for low-income families as this Christmas will be harder in light of Covid.

Food parcels at  BBM HQ in Manukau.

Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

The charity's Covid-19 Social Impact Dashboard monitors five social progress areas across the country - housing, food security, financial hardship, addictions and income support and unemployment.

The latest - the sixth and also the final one for 2020 - shows increased needs on all these areas.

The report said the social housing waiting list continued to quickly climb, reaching over 20,000 applicants in August. Since April, over the main Covid lockdown periods, more than 3600 new applications were added to the waiting list - a 22 percent increase since the first dashboard in April.

Food parcel distribution had slightly decreased since June but still 30 percent higher than pre-Covid levels. Despite an annual increasing trend, this year had a higher increasing rate.

Calls to the budgeting help service MoneyTalks have been steady at around 300 since June, though less than the spike in April. KiwiSaver withdrawals for hardship have increased slightly since July, with 2010 members withdrawing funds in September, a 30 percent increase comparing with 2019.

Policy analyst at the charity, Ronji Tanielu, said, with the end of both the original wage subsidy and the 12-week Covid income relief payment just before Christmas, many families will struggle more. His charity is expecting a 20 percent increase in demand for food and gifts in this period.

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Policy analyst, Ronji Tanielu. Photo: Supplied / Ronji Tanielu

"We're going to see traditional hardship from those who normally use our services, but also new people facing hardship ... probably people that were contributing to and donating to our food banks last year are probably gonna be people that need our food bank this year," he said.

"I think if there's one thing one important thing that we and many other groups have been advocating for is that we really do need to lift the core benefit levels for those receiving a government support package. I think that's really critical.

"That would be one of the best Christmas presents that we could give to those families that are struggling."

The report found the number of people receiving alcohol and other drug treatment had fluctuated earlier, but had now stabilised at around the same levels as before Covid-19. There had been an increasing prevalence of the use of drug GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid).

Anxiety and mental health issues have also been more elevated, according to the report.

Tanielu said there was also an increase of online gamble, but that the harm hadn't been talked about much.

"That's really, really challenging for us to try and get on top of it. So things like online gambling, alcohol addiction, other drug addiction, those things are increasing, connected to mental health... That's a bad mixture, so those are some of the new things that we're starting to see now."

The charity would like to see the government invest in gambling harm sector, regulate online gambling, decriminalise cannabis and intervene early.

There are also more people registered as jobseekers now than the pre-Covid period and an increase in people over 50 years who are struggling to find new jobs. The number of people on working-age benefits reached 369,000 on 13 November, the highest number for more than a decade, according to the report.

"It's a tough situation, but again, we're just gonna keep fighting and I think the government has a mandate and they need to be braver and more robust in their actions. They've got the chance to make some really transformative change. I hope they use it," Tanielu said.

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