Food relief is struggling

A sack of avocado's next to two half empty boxes of tomatoes.
Food relief services are running low on foods like fruit and vegetables. Image: Josh Smith

Food relief services in WA have seen more people coming to them in the search of aid.

Foodbank WA chief executive Kate O’Hara said that on their busiest day in September they had 833 requests for food from people which they managed to provide. While in July 2020 the normal number of people requesting food per day was 220.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reported that the Consumer Price Index, which measures the average price of goods and services bought by a household, has risen by 6.1 per cent since last year.

“There is no question in our minds that the cost-of-living situation has a direct and immediate impact on what services we provide,” Ms O’Hara said.

The CPI is calculated from the price of food, beverages, alcohol, tobacco, clothing, footwear, housing, furnishings, household equipment and services, health, transport, communication, recreation and culture, education, insurance and financial services.

Over the same time, the average wage in Australia has grown by just 2.6 per cent. So, the amount of money that people are taking home is effectively 3.5 per cent lower than last year.

This means that people can afford fewer goods and services than they could before which is causing them to need support from food banks to get by.

 Another food relief service, OzHarvest, has also experienced an increase in the number of people asking for help.

OzHarvest State Manager WA Jennifer Keen said that in WA many of the charities that OzHarvest supports were reporting an increase in the demand for food relief of approximately 30 per cent.

Across the whole country searches for food relief on the OzHarvest website have gone up by 22 per cent.

There has been a 62 per cent rise from pre-Covid times.

They have received 53,000 searches for food relief a month on average.

“People are facing impossible choices, often on a daily basis on where their money goes – paying for medication, bills, rent etcetera often come before buying food.”

Ms Keen

The Pantry WA has also experienced a large increase in people asking for food relief. But for them, the impact of this has been more severe.

The Pantry WA chief executive Bev Woolhouse said that in September they had to close their foodbank on some Wednesdays because they did not have enough food to give out. The Pantry WA is usually open on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Previously they were open four days a week but in February they reduced that to two days because they did not have enough food to give out.

Ms Woolhouse also spoke of the level of increase in the demand for food relief that she has seen herself: “We had about 80 cars lined up in the queue, we have never had that before and then for three hours it doesn’t stop.”

Ms O’Hara said that more funding is needed from the government for the people who are finding it difficult to cope with the rise of everyday costs.

Less than 5 per cent of Foodbank WA’s funding is from government sources. The government funding the organisation does receive is for its school breakfast programme that is run across half of the schools in the state. None of this funding goes towards food relief.

“We are actually falling into a cycle where a lot of households are operating at almost depression-level because it is long-term, low income that they can’t balance against the growing costs,” Ms O’Hara said.