Large spike in food hardship grants, cost of housing blamed

by Sarah Robson / 05 March, 2018

The cost of housing is putting the squeeze on many family budgets. Photo / Tom Furley

Government spending on food hardship grants jumped $10 million last year, with Work and Income handing out more grants than ever before.

Ministry of Social Development figures showed that almost 498,000 grants for food were made in 2017 - an increase of close to 100,000 on the year before - at a cost of $52 million.

Last year's jump followed several years of steady increases and has been blamed on the rising cost of housing.

Beneficiaries and people on low incomes are able to access special needs grants from Work and Income to help pay for food.

The money is loaded on to a payment card and it doesn't have to be paid back.

Solo mother of one, Kathleen, lives in Auckland and is on a benefit.

At times, she said she has struggled to put food on the table and she has had to resort to getting a grant from Work and Income.

"My rent was taking most of my benefit and left us with $13 a week. I had one child to support. It was hard to feed one child and I used to starve myself and it got to a stage where I found the guts to go in and get a food grant."

People who were resorting to food grants have no other choice, when benefits aren't going up, but all other costs are, Kathleen said.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the housing - the rentals have just gone out of this world and taken most of their benefits. The price rises of milk, bread, normal things everyday people should have, those have gone up every year."

Kathleen works as an advocate at Auckland Action Against Poverty, helping other beneficiaries navigate the system.

One of the organisation's co-ordinators, Ricardo Menendez March, said they had noticed an increase in the number of people coming in for help getting food grants.

Family budgets were getting squeezed and it was food that was getting scrimped on, he said.

"While people may face evictions if they don't pay their rent, for example, or the power cut off if they don't pay their bills, food just seems like one of those things that can easily be reduced."

Susan St John from the Child Poverty Action Group said the increasing number of food grants wasn't surprising.

More people were getting their benefits cut because of sanctions, reducing the amount of money they could spend on groceries and other essentials, she said.

"Food tends to be the tip of the iceberg in all of this, what are the other things that families are not able to have because they simply don't have enough money."

Last month, the Salvation Army's State of the Nation report revealed a 12 percent jump in the number of food parcels it handed out in the last year.

Wellington missions director Hilary Hague is based in Wellington and she said many of the people who go to the Salvation Army for help have also been to Work and Income.

"There's an increasing number of people who need help because they don't get enough, so they're not able to live off what they're given, or it comes through slower than they can imagine. There's a gap, so they're waiting for their benefit to come through, or their grant, and some people come because Work and Income has turned them down and they don't know where else to go after that."

In a statement, the Ministry of Social Development said the increase in food grants was due largely to rising housing costs.

The Ministry said it had also made it easier for people to access food grants online or by calling the contact centre.

This article was originally published by RNZ.


Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of military aircraft
88389 2018-03-16 07:02:40Z Politics

Defence Minister Ron Mark defends his use of milit…

by Craig McCulloch

Defence Minister Ron Mark is denying any inappropriate use of military aircraft after revelations he has used them to fly to and from home.

Read more
Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close to school
88387 2018-03-16 06:55:59Z Crime

Corrections moves sex offenders from lodge close t…

by Eva Corlett and Sally Murphy

Corrections says it will review its processes after it was discovered 11 sex offenders were living less than a kilometre away from an Auckland school.

Read more
Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports to New Zealand
88222 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Rodney Walshe: One of Ireland's best-known exports…

by Clare de Lore

When he arrived here from Ireland in 1960, Rodney Walshe had nothing but a suit and the gift of the gab. They took him a long way.

Read more
Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming home
88378 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Profiles

Derek Handley talks Trump, business and coming hom…

by Clare de Lore

The nomadic New Zealander who’s set his sights on space travel is no longer an alien.

Read more
How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk to celebrated jeweller
88263 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z What's on

How Lisa Walker went from teenage Wellington punk …

by Mike White

The Anarchist jeweller has a remarkable show at new Te Papa gallery, Toi Art.

Read more
A brief and brimming history of sh*t
87922 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Books

A brief and brimming history of sh*t

by David Hill

Midas Dekkers' history of faeces favours sensible over sniggery.

Read more
Is the battery of the popular Nissan Leaf degrading too early?
88392 2018-03-16 00:00:00Z Technology

Is the battery of the popular Nissan Leaf degradin…

by Peter Griffin

A group of Kiwi citizen scientists claims to have discovered a problem with the battery in the world’s best selling electric car - the Nissan Leaf.

Read more
Goodbye Hamilton, hello Kirikiriroa: The growing push for Māori place names
88338 2018-03-15 09:05:34Z Social issues

Goodbye Hamilton, hello Kirikiriroa: The growing p…

by The Listener

The adoption of Māori place names may take some effort, but it's worth it.

Read more