More families get help as food becomes discretionary spend

WITH electricity bills soaring, increasing numbers of families are turning to charities for food parcels and free meals but many are being turned away because the cupboards are bare.

The first End Hunger report, by the charity Foodbank, which supplied 24 million kilograms of donated food to charities last year, the equivalent of 88,000 meals a day, says food relief agencies have not been able to meet the rising demand for food.

Foodbank's survey of 668 charities, analysed by Deloitte Access Economics, shows an 11 per cent increase in the number of people seeking food assistance in the past year. About 70 per cent of the charities said they had faced increased demand and nearly all said they had insufficient food to meet it.

The chief executive of Foodbank NSW Ltd, Gerry Andersen, said food had become a ''discretionary spend'' for many families. ''The reality is you have to have a car licence, pay the rent, mortgage, rates, the electricity bills, petrol and tolls. Whatever is left after those must-pays, that is what you spend on food,'' he said.

The report shows electricity prices have risen 54 per cent since 2003-04, and rents 33 per cent. Charities are under pressure to meet high demand for milk, cereal, fruit and vegetables and other staples, the survey shows. About two-thirds of clients did not get enough to meet needs.

The deprivation study by the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of NSW showed in 2010 about 1 per cent of Australians ''could not afford to eat at least one substantial meal a day''. Among clients of welfare agencies, this rose to 12 per cent in a survey conducted in 2006 before the steep rise in power bills.

With more charities requesting food, Foodbank increased its provision last year by 23 per cent, distributing $170 million worth of product donated by Australia's major grocery companies, food producers and supermarkets.

Changes in the food industry have made the sourcing of donated product more difficult, the report says, due to more efficient inventory control, reduced local food production, fewer failed product launches and industry concentration.

At the Old Fire Station, a community centre in Glebe, 90-year-old Sarah Murdoch King gets ''the best cup of coffee in town''.

She had received yoghurt, butter, eggs and vegetables through Foodbank, but because its NSW government subsidy was cut this year, it has imposed a delivery fee that some cannot afford.

Ms Murdoch King, who received an Order of Australia in 1985, said the food was ''a great help but it doesn't matter to me as much as it does to families''.

The story More families get help as food becomes discretionary spend first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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