Food banks have reported a 47% increase in the number of vulnerable Australians needing assistance amid the pandemic, with casual workers and international students said to be the most recent “food insecure groups.”
The numbers come from Australian charity Food Bank, who published its latest FoodBank Hunger Report 2020 saying that the number of Australians experiencing food insecurity has doubled from 15% in 2019 to 31% in 2020, and that people are experiencing food insecurity for the first time due to the pandemic.
All up, Foodbank says that three in five Australians experiencing food insecurity have accessed food relief since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The report states that for “almost a third of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020, 28% had never experienced it before COVID-19,” suggesting the impact of the pandemic has been extremely chaotic for Australian households. The most common demographic in need of support were casual workers and international students, who were grouped in as “newly food insecure groups emerging as a result of the pandemic.”
For casuals, the months between March and July saw more than 556,800 casual roles dropped from the workforce, with the unemployment rate jumping from 5.2 to 7.5 per cent. Numbers cited in the report from Good Shepherd claims that two out of five Australians have seen “negative employment” changes since April; these included stand-down orders, reduced hours and pay, as well as being forced to take leave.
Overall, 39% of the charities that Foodbank is involved in have reported an increase in demand from international students, who do not currently have access to welfare payments via JobSeeker and are unable to receive JobKeeper. In addition, the report states that low-income, unemployed single-parent families, the homeless and those living with mental illnesses.
Authors of the report say that the “cost of living has consistently been the main reason Australians experience food insecurity, with people most likely to cite unexpected expenses or large bills (41%) and rent and mortgage payments (35%) as the most common reasons they are unable to afford enough food.”
Younger Australians are more likely to face financial difficulties through the pandemic, with as much as 65% of generation Z (18 years-old to 25) respondents saying they’re going hungry at least once a week; this is compared to 25% of baby boomers and 25% of those above the age of 75.
This is in addition to the reported 53% of Australians that say they have experienced a decline in their mental health during 2020.
The report quotes Maria, the founder of Survivors R Us in NSW who said that “I have never seen the line as long as it was just to come and get some food relief.”
“Through Foodbank, my ordering has gone up twofold to try and keep up with the demand, so it has really increased a lot for us. We probably had around 100-150 people a week before the pandemic, and this has gone up to about 500 people a week,” she said.
Foodbank is Australia’s largest provider of groceries for those in need. In 2019, the group provided groceries equivalent to 210,000 meals, and distributes goods to 2,400 charities around Australia.
Authors of the report quizzed respondents as to their levels of optimism of finding employment in the next six-months, with just 4% responding they were extremely optimistic, and 63% saying they weren’t optimistic at all about their chances.
Peter, of the Kingborough Family Church told authors of the report that “we’ve found that throughout all of COVID up until now, we have had between a 20-25% increase in demand.”
“We’ve 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. The reason I tell you that is because it’s the true demand, not just the increase we’ve seen, but a whole new charity started fresh because of COVID.”
The charity says that the two main barriers for those in need to seek help when it comes to food relief are the embarrassment they feel, as well as the thought that people more in need than they are deserve the support. Shame was the third most common reason, while others preferred to ask people they knew personally for help.