Poor stay poor despite attempts to raise low incomes

Recent reports to the council show rises in foodbank use of 20 to 70 percent along with record high demand for budgeting advice and other support services.

A new report on a key measure of poverty, foodbank use, shows no change in the number of people whose income failed to meet basic needs in the past three years despite a booming economy and government help for low-income earners.

The New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) report, Poverty Indicators Project Update – A Snapshot of Comparative Analysis of Foodbank Use, compares foodbank data collected in the three months ending December 2007 with the same period in 2004.

The survey period came after three years of economic growth, the Working for Families package and the Ministry of Social Development’s strategy to eliminate the need for foodbanks.
NZCCSS executive officer, Trevor McGlinchey, says most foodbank clients received only one food parcel in the three-month period so they were not using the foodbank as a regular strategy to cover a shortfall; rather, he says, desperate circumstances drove them to seek help.

‘In October to December 2007, even after year-on-year increases in economic activity, many beneficiaries and low-paid workers were still not earning enough to always be able to purchase basic food supplies.’

Given the startling increases in food and fuel prices that have struck in the eight months since the data for this report was gathered, NZCCSS sees the report as providing a baseline for understanding the effects of these increases. Recent reports to the council show rises in foodbank use of 20 to 70 percent along with record high demand for budgeting advice and other support services.

This has stretched foodbanks to the limit, but in most areas there have been more donations made through supermarket boxes and from corporate donors. There has also been a corresponding rise in financial support from churches. The recently released policy of doubling the access to Work and Income’s food grants from once to twice per year will also be of benefit but this has yet to have an impact on demand for foodbank services.

In the wake of the report, NZCCSS has recommended that the government:
• provide Working for Families-type support to all low-income earners no matter their source of income or whether they have children;
• index benefits more closely to the Food Price Index rather than the Consumer Price Index;
• MSD work collaboratively with food banks and the social service sector to develop and implement actions that will reduce the need for foodbanks.

‘New Zealanders have responded to these dramatic increases by giving generously to support their neighbours. This has really heartened the foodbank workers who are rushed off their feet by the extra demand,’ says Mr McGlinchey. ‘We strongly appreciate the spirit of aroha tetahi ki tetahi – of looking after each other – that this generosity demonstrates. Yet as advocates for poor and vulnerable New Zealanders we do not think that they should have to rely on their neighbours and their churches to feed their families.’