Sydney, Australia

Food security continues to be a problem for Australians, with 1.2 million children going hungry and one in six adults not getting enough food to eat in the past 12 months, the annual Foodbank Hunger Report has found.

But in a surprising finding, the report, released this week, found food insecurity affects more people in jobs than those who have no work.

“Food insecurity is not restricted to the obviously vulnerable groups in the community such as homeless people and the unemployed,” the report said.“The biggest reason why people do not have enough food for themselves and their families, and cannot afford to buy more, is unexpected expenses or large bills.”

Other reasons included loss of income from job loss or reduced hours of work, running out of savings, and through domestic violence or family breakdown.
The non-denominational organisation, which provides food to various charities through fundraising efforts and corporate sponsorship, says social stigma and lack of accessibility are the largest barriers to people getting the assistance they need.

Foodbank warehouse

Inside a Foodbank warehouse. PICTURE: Foodbank NSW & ACT

The findings, which take into account increased needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, show more than half of people severely impacted by food insecurity - including children - miss out on meals on any given day.

“[Some] 1.2 million children are living in food insecure households,” the report said. “More than two in five severely food insecure parents (43 per cent) say their children go a whole day without eating at least once a week.”

Foodbank says food relief is being sought by men and women of every age, those living alone, in families and in groups, as well as by refugees, and across urban, regional and remote areas.

Among those at risk were regional Indigenous families, low-income urban families and single parents who often rely on government assistance, and young urban families with blue collar or low-income jobs.

However, also seeking help were young professionals on entry level incomes and struggling with the high cost of independent living, retirees struggling with rising costs on fixed incomes, young professionals, and families with higher asset wealth, who may have older children still at home but who face financial shocks and cash flow issues.

“One in six Australians (17 per cent) can be categorised as being severely food insecure,” the report said. “This means they have multiple disruptions to their eating patterns and are forced to reduce their food intake. More than half (57 per cent) go a whole day without eating at least once a week.”

It also found that more than two in five food insecure Australians (46 per cent) need more food than they currently receive to meet their household’s needs.
Meanwhile, it showed many people who are going hungry “had never been in this situation before the (COVID-19) pandemic”.

“In fact, in NSW 39 per cent of people struggling to meet their food needs are new to the situation,” it said.

While the Australian Government’s social support payments JobKeeper and JobSeeker had made a big difference to those going hungry during COVID-19, “48 per cent of people reported they are not coping well since support has been rolled back and 60 per cent of people are finding it more challenging to make ends meet than this time last year.”

Brianna Casey Foodbank Australia CEO

Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank Australia. PICTURE: Supplied.

Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank Australia, says a decade after the first report in 2012 resulted in “disbelief that there were people going hungry in ‘the lucky country’”, the problem continues to grow.

“What has become clearer since this report was first published is the diversity of people touched by the issue. Food relief is not only being sought out by those who are homeless and unemployed, but working families, refugees, single parents, school leavers, First Nations People and many more,” Casey said on the report’s release.

“When the global pandemic hit, it radically transformed our day-to-day reality, bringing unexpected challenges and suffering and exacerbating existing societal issues. Those already struggling have been hit even harder, while others find themselves fighting to pay the bills, feed their family and keep the lights on for the first time in their lives.”

She said awareness of food insecurity and the arrival of the pandemic had led to a “welcome sense of empathy” towards the vulnerable for whatever reason.

“It will be a long road to recovery, but we must not forget the new perspective we have gained through this pandemic,” she said.

“The circumstances that put people into food insecurity before the virus – poverty, family and domestic violence, under-employment and housing affordability to name a few – will still be with us and food relief will remain a critically important part of the solution.”