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Demand for food relief has risen by 47% on average during Covid-19, Australian charities say, with the trend driven by growing numbers of international students and casual workers asking for help.
In a report to be released on Monday, Foodbank surveyed about 500 charities once a month between April and September, as well as 1,000 Australians aged 18 and older who had experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months.
Despite the doubling of the jobseeker payment and the introduction of the jobkeeper subsidy, Foodbank said casual workers and international students were among two “newly food insecure groups emerging as a result of the pandemic”.
The report found 39% of charities providing food bank services had seen an increase in demand among international students, who are barred from access to jobseeker or jobkeeper payments.
One group, the Kingborough Family Church in Hobart, said it had seen a 20%-25% increase in demand, though members had also helped another church start a charity to assist international students.
“We would have literally doubled our demand if we had not helped them set up,” a church member told the survey.
Guardian Australia has reported on how thousands of international students have turned to foodbanks to survive, with some research suggesting as many as one in six have relied on charity for emergency food relief.
Meanwhile, 69% of the charities surveyed by Foodbank noted an increase in the number of newly unemployed people seeking food relief since the start of the pandemic.
The report said those who were already experiencing food insecurity before the pandemic were now seeking assistance more often.
“In 2019, 15% of Australians experiencing food insecurity were seeking food relief at least once a week,” the report said.
“In 2020, this has more than doubled to 31%. Although charities are seeing demand for food relief become more erratic and unpredictable, overall numbers are up by an average of 47%.”
Those findings could be considered surprising given the federal government’s temporary increase to welfare benefits in April. One study by researchers at the Australian National University found the boost to jobseeker payment and creation of the jobkeeper wage subsidy spared 2.2 million people from poverty.
However, the Foodbank report suggests that some people – such as laid off casual workers – who applied for government support were forced to rely on food relief while they waited for their Centrelink claims to be processed.
The welfare system briefly came to a standstill in March under the weight of new applications, though a rapid overhaul of eligibility requirements and the hiring of thousands of new Centrelink staff cleared the backlog among of jobseeker claims.
Although applications for jobseeker payment were fast-tracked, with an average processing time of 10 days between March and May, some people accessing other benefits such as youth allowance, Austudy or carer payment have complained about longer waits. Even among jobseeker claims, Services Australia conceded one complex claim over the period had taken seven weeks.
Since July, however, the average wait for jobseeker claims was five days.
The Foodbank report said “food insecure” people waiting for their welfare claims to be approved “experienced significant uncertainty in their everyday lives”.
The report quoted one respondent, Jodie, who lost her casual job at a motor vehicle repair shop when Covid shutdowns were enforced.
“It was very sudden,” she said. “I’ve never had to worry about food before this year … Even though I was a casual, I was still working six times a week. I went from earning $1,100 a week down to basic carers pension, which I’m still a few weeks off being approved for.
“So I’ve dropped my weekly wages around 50% and my partner is exactly the same, he’s lost his wages about 50%.”
The $550 a fortnight coronavirus supplement added to jobseeker payment and other benefits was reduced by $300 last month. The move was expected to increase hardship among more traditionally vulnerable groups, such as the unemployed, homeless and single parents.
The federal government is yet to commit to a permanent increase to jobseeker payments and other benefits, though it may extend the coronavirus supplement into next year. It has also boosted funding to emergency food relief charities during the pandemic.
The budget also included two $250 cash payments to other welfare recipients, such as age and disability pensioners.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australian food banks report huge surge in demand during Covid pandemic | Welfare