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'The problem's escalated' — Food poverty in Aotearoa only getting worse, say those on the frontline

The Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni says food is becoming unaffordable for many New Zealanders, as rising accommodation costs eat into their weekly budget.

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New Government figures have revealed 1.5 million emergency food grants were issued in 2020. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as new figures show the number of Kiwis needing emergency grants to feed their families has tripled in just a few years.

Those on the front lines say the problem is only getting worse.

“Comparing the time March last year when we started our food bank to now, the numbers have quadrupled ... the problem's escalated," says South Auckland’s BBM Foodbank, Fuatino Laban.

A clearance food store in Auckland tells a similar story as the demand for cheap, rescued food has increased.

“From what we see in this store in Manukau, there's a lot more people coming in, a lot of people are struggling out there at the moment, a lot of people have lost jobs and we're here to help out,” says Sean Hills of Reduced to Clear.

Sepuloni wasn't available for an interview today, but in a statement she blamed rising accommodation costs across the country, saying they’re putting pressure on households.

In short, the Government is saying rising housing costs are sucking up Kiwis’ money, leaving them unable to afford food.

Covid-19 also made things worse in 2020, with a spike in emergency food grants during lockdown.

Sepuloni said the Government temporarily boosted the value of food grants in response to the pandemic.

“To ensure people were able to put food on the table for themselves and their family, the Government increased the total amount of Special Needs Grant [food] that could be provided in 26-week period, by $400. The $400 increase was temporary and provided from late March 2020 to early August 2020.”
 

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The Greens believe the Labour Government is refusing to take steps to ease that pressure - like taxing property speculators and introducing liveable incomes.

“There is no reason why anybody should feel the stress of having to not know where your next meal is going to come from for yourself and for your family,” says Green Party co-leader, Marama Davidson.

New Government figures reveal the surging number of Kiwis that are struggling to put food on the table.

Seven years ago, just over 350,000 emergency food grants were issued by the Social Development Ministry.

That rose to just under half a million by 2017.

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There was a big change in 2019, with more than a million grants issued for the first time.

That upward trend continued last year, to just over 1.5 million.

“It doesn't surprise me at all, something definitely needs to be done and done urgently .... probably more education … improving living conditions,” Laban says.

The Government spent between $10 million and $20 million a month on emergency food grants in 2020.

And more than $300,000 went to My Food Bag - providing emergency food boxes to beneficiaries.