October 21st, 2021
The grim toll of COVID-19 continues with the revelations this week about the deep impact the pandemic has had on Australians’ food security, particularly the 1.2 million children who have gone hungry.
The annual Foodbank Hunger Report, released this week, reveals that more than one in three Australians who are now considered food insecure had not experienced it before the pandemic.
Foodbank’s analysis chimes with the experience of the nation’s other food charities who have recorded a significant increase in demand during the pandemic, highlighting how the economic and health consequences of COVID-19 had tipped many Australians in to food insecurity.
Foodbank Victoria, for example, has recorded a 47 per cent increase in the number of people seeking food assistance since the pandemic started. It currently sources and distributes more than 9.3 million kgs of food and grocery items each year to more than 500 charity partners across the state. But there are individual stories that reveal how insidious food insecurity can be.
“We were far from rich, but we were comfortable,’’ one Foodbank recipient said. But after a family medical issue, their circumstances changed dramatically. “We lost everything, and in the end, it came down to a choice between eating or keeping a roof over our head. We didn’t want to end up on the street, so we chose hunger,’’ the recipient said.
The Foodbank Hunger Report 2021 shows that the Federal government support measures, including JobSeeker and JobKeeper, helped many Australians. According to Foodbank’s research, more than half (54 per cent) of food insecure Australians accessed government assistance between March last year and March this year. But 60 per cent of food insecure Australians are now finding it more challenging to make ends meet than this time last year.
One of the most challenging findings is the extent of the food insecurity affecting children. More than two in five severely food insecure parents say their children go a day without eating at least once a week.
Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey said although awareness of the food insecurity problem had grown in the decade that Foodbank had been releasing its annual hunger report, it was the diversity of those impacted by the problem that needed to be understood.
“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,’’ she said.
The research shows that the main reasons that Australians experience food insecurity are unexpected expenses or bill shock (35 per cent) or low income (30 per cent.) But there is often a coincidence of circumstances that contribute to the situation.
One in six Australians are categorized as severely food insecure, but the number of Australians experiencing some form of the problem is estimated to be about a quarter of the nation’s adults.
Food insecurity is made up of a range of experiences that includes having to reduce the quality, variety or desirability of what you eat to having many disruptions to eating and reduced food intake. The report identifies that more than half of those Australians who are categorized as severely food insecure, will go without eating one day a week.
Breanna said COVID-19’s impact had shown how easy it was for people to become vulnerable.
“We have seen firsthand people who have lost their jobs and income or have been caught in hard lockdown unable to access the food they need for their families, and this is leading to a welcome sense of empathy towards those who are vulnerable for any number of reasons,’’ she said.