When there's not enough to eat
16 October 2012

When there's not enough to eat

Over time, many non discretionary items such as food, gas electricity and water charges, property rates and charges, household services, health, education and insurance services have either risen significantly and/or displayed a high degree of price volatility.

In the 12 months up to Jun 2011 the price of food increased 6% with the bulk of the increase shown to be for fresh fruit and vegetables (35% increase in cost).

In the same period, housing costs increased by almost 5% with an increase in rents of 4.5% and an increase in utilities of 9.9% (with an increase specifically in electricity of 10.7% in the 12 months before June 2011). Transport too, has had an increase in costs of 3.5% over the same period.

There has not been an increase in government allowances (other than inflation) since 1995. And due to differing indexation, allowances fall ever behind other government payments, the minimum wage and the national average.

‘When there’s not enough to eat’ is the 12th edition of Anglicare Australia’s State of the Family report. It is based on the network’s first national research project - a study into food insecurity among people seeking Emergency Relief at Anglicare services in every state and territory of Australia.

Below are some of the findings arising from that work. Food security requires access to readily available, safe and nutritious food.

Adults

  • 96% of respondents were food insecure with 3 in 4 (76%) experiencing severe insecurity.
  • 3 out of 4 adults regularly ran out of food in the last three months and could not afford to buy more. 73% of adults were cutting the size of meals and 62% were regularly skipping meals altogether.
  • 1 in 3 adults regularly did not eat for an entire day. Food security is measured by the severity and frequency of occasions of insecurity.

Children

  • Living in a food insecure household did not necessarily mean that children were food insecure.
  • 79% of children presented in the sample experienced some level of insecurity however more than 1 in 3 were severely food insecure.
  • Surveyed adults appear to build in protection for children in those same households from the effect of food insecurity: 97% of adults living in households with children fell into either a more severe category than children in the household (55%) or the same (43%) food insecurity category.
  • 65% of households with children said they regularly could not provide enough variety of food for their children, 38% said their children were regularly not eating enough and 29% of cases they said children were regularly going hungry.
  • In 7% of households children did not eat for a whole day either weekly or some weeks.
  • Children have been described as being ‘grumpy’, ‘upset’, ‘embarrassed’ and exhibiting behavioural problems. Findings compiled from surveys of people accessing emergency relief services across the Anglicare Australia network

Who is food insecure?

  • 61% of respondents were female.
  • 32% of respondents represented lone parent households; another 28% represented single person households.
  • Indigenous people were over-represented, accounting for 17% of food insecure respondents compared to 2% of the national population.
  • 67% of households had incomes of less than $1000 per fortnight.
  • 77% of households have no one in paid employment.
  • Four out of five households (78%. 47% of which were in public housing) were renting and 12% were living in insecure housing. 10% were paying off a mortgage or owned their own home.
  • 94% of private renters were experiencing rental stress.

Among food insecure respondents

Income:

  • 91% did not have enough money to buy the food they needed.
  • 89% had run out of food because of an unexpected expense or event.
  • The price of food and the lack of income were listed as a major concern to households for accessing food. It was compromised by costs for rent, electricity and bills in general and lack of money to make ends meet.

Transport:

  • 33% indicated that they had difficulty accessing shops because of health and mobility problems and more than one third (38%) stated that not having access to a car for shopping worsened their food situation.
  • One in four (25%) considered public transport inadequate and unreliable and 43% felt transport was too expensive

Cooking & Storage:

  • For 19% health and mobility problems reduced their capacity to be able to cook for themselves.
  • One in ten clients did not have a fridge, 13% did not have a working stove, oven or microwave and 8% did not have power connected.

Coping mechanisms

  • The most common coping strategies among food insecure respondents were receiving help from an ER service or food bank (88%) or going without food (67%).
  • Nine out of ten households (90%) had asked for food from an ER centre. More than half (62%) had sought assistance between two and five times.
  • 44% had pawned or sold personal possessions in the last three months.
  • 50% of all food insecure respondents indicated that they had sought help from family and 40% had asked for assistance from friends or neighbours.

Impacts

  • Respondents reported a number of physical symptoms including hunger, weight loss, nausea, lethargy and loss of focus and concentration.
  • Socially, respondents reported not being able to entertain family or friends and not being able to invite their children’s friends over after school. They also reported embarrassment and shame at having to ask for assistance, feelings of stress, anxiety and inadequacy.

What can we do?

  • We can recognise and respond to the inadequacy of current income support payments in the forthcoming National Food Plan and address the most significant aspect of food security - that of adequate income.
  • The Federal Government could increase the Newstart Allowance (NSA) and other allowance payments for single persons by at least $50 per week.
  • Services can take an integrated approach recognising that linking community development programs with emergency relief is a means to provide wrap around services to people who may experience food insecurity and disadvantage more broadly.
  • We can ensure that people live in good housing circumstances: that the facilities are appropriate for storing and cooking food; that electrical equipment is energy efficient; and that safe and nutritious food is made available within communities through various food programs such as co-ops or community garden.

View a copy of the report here or contact Anglicare Australia on 02 6230 1775 for more information.