Having a job is no longer a shield against poverty in Australia

Brianna Casey is the CEO of Foodbank Australia. She knows about the growing lines of people seeking help to put food on the table and a growing number have jobs, not enough pay, and the rising cost of living is making this worse. Brianna writes about (The Guardian 24 November 2022) how it is affecting people just like us.

In Australia right now, 306,000 households are receiving assistance from food relief organisations on a typical day. With stagnating wages and the rising cost of living, more and more working families, single parents, and students are lining up for their next meal.

So, when the treasurer declared that the pressures on our economy were being felt most acutely around the kitchen table, he wasn’t wrong.

Christmas will be extremely difficult for many families this year. But what some may not have realised is that those kitchen tables are in homes just like yours and mine.

More than half of food-insecure households have someone in paid work. A job – or even several jobs – is no longer a shield against hunger or poverty.

We know that people on low incomes are great at budgeting, yet there is only so much wriggle room when your income remains stagnant, and your expenses grow by the day.

Foodbank recipient Charlotte* is a single mum who works part-time. She is struggling to make ends meet and finds the increase in the cost of groceries out of her price range. She talks of sacrificing lunch and eating one muesli bar the entire day, giving what is left in her pantry to her three-year-old daughter.

Our report revealed 1.3 million children lived in food insecure households last year.

Many of these households are like Charlotte’s, where parents go without food to ensure their child is fed.

‘There are only so many cost-cutting measures a household can take before food becomes a discretionary spend in the family budget.’ Photograph: Penny Stephens

We are only too aware that Christmas will be extremely difficult for many families this year.

Foodbank warehouses all around the country are in Christmas hamper packing mode, many operating on weekends to try to keep up with demand. We are in a fortunate position to have community members and corporate Australia stepping up to help pack the tens of thousands of hampers that will be distributed throughout the country, but will it be enough?

In a “normal”, disaster-free year, perhaps it would be.

But we haven’t had a normal year for some time now.

Devastating and persistent flooding across the food basins of NSW and Victoria will have long-lasting effects on food supply, with the increase in prices expected to be felt not only for the remainder of the year but well into 2023.

Our Australian afternoon update email breaks down the key national and international stories of the day and why they matter.

Emergency food relief hampers and pallets of fresh produce have been making their way to flood-affected areas across Victoria and NSW for the last month, on top of the ongoing support we are providing to communities still recovering from previous disasters, right back to Black Summer.

We hear a lot about “resilience” and the need for communities to prepare for natural disasters, but how do you prepare when you’re still enduring or recovering from the last crisis? What does resilience look like when a cost of living crisis collides with an income crisis and a third consecutive La Niña?

Angela Finch, a working single mother to three daughters, wrote last week: “I have done all I can to save energy and I can barely afford the cost of existing.”

There are only so many cost-cutting measures a household can take before food becomes a discretionary spend in the family budget. This is one of the reasons we’re seeing so many people who are new to food relief. They never imagined that they’d have to choose between buying groceries and keeping the lights on. They never imagined they’d be sending their children to school on an empty tummy, encouraging them to chew on a small ball of paper to stave off the hunger in class.

We live in one of the richest nations in the world. We produce enough food to feed our population three times over. Yet, on any given day in Australia, more than half a million households are struggling to put food on the table.

If you’re in the fortunate position to be able to donate, please do. We can turn $1 into $4 worth of food for people who really need it.

People who may be sitting across from you at work or at the bus stop or waiting at the school gate. They are people in your street. They are living pay cheque to pay cheque and hoping their world doesn’t come crashing down the next time the interest rates go up, the next time it floods, or the next time rents go up. Everyday things happening to everyday people.

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