Food insecurity is starving with Budget crumbs

food insecurity

Food insecurity is an urgent problem the Government must fix.

“The more hungry we are, the more we will see unrest,” says Auckland City Missioner Helen Robinson.

“Thousands and thousands of us just don’t have enough money for food.”

She should know. Over the past 10 years, demand for City Mission food parcels has risen each year.

“It’s gone from 9,000 to 65,000. That’s a huge number of people suffering food insecurity.

“Food prices rose 12 percent in the year to April. That’s the largest increase since 1987.”

Robinson had hoped last week’s Budget might help.

So had Susan St John, economist and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) spokesperson.

It didn’t.

CPAGs view

The Budget is policy makers’ biggest opportunity, says St John. They can change the systems that lock whānau into poverty. They can also opt to keep the status quo.

“Budget 2023 was short-sighted,” she says.

“It didn’t give money to families struggling to meet basic living costs. It’s terrifying it didn’t address food insecurity’s rise.

“This budget should have delivered a reformed and effective Working for Families.

“It is tiresome to hear that ‘allowing low-income families to have sufficient income to feed their families would be inflationary’. It would not – in fact, it would make the economy work better,” the economist says.

“Poverty is stealing families’ dreams and there was little in the Budget to change this.”

Changing policies can work

St John’s recommendations to immediately alleviate the problem involve two things:

  • The in-work tax credit (IWTC) being folded into the Family Tax Credit, to form one payment for all low-income children.

This would be a targeted and very efficient way to reduce child poverty, she says. It offers a higher level of support only to those who currently do not get the IWTC.

St John says it would cost about $500m per year.

Her other suggestion addresses poverty traps for middle- and low-income families in paid work:

  • income assistance abatement thresholds must be raised and rates of abatement cut from 27 percent to 20 percent.

At present they face impossible “clawbacks”, she says.

For each dollar they earn over a very low threshold, they may receive only a few cents. This is because income assistance abates (reduces) so quickly in several domains that it keeps them in poverty traps.

Victoria University’s Kate Prickett is also concerned about the Budget’s failure to make systematic changes for families.

She’s the Director of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families and Children.

Targets to lift children out of poverty aren’t being met, Prickett says.

“We’re not going to make further dents in child poverty without implementing bold support for those families being left behind.”

She suggests helping:

  • working families teetering on the poverty line
  • Pacific families who may be less likely to qualify for support because they don’t have residency status, despite contributing to the economy and their communities
  • families unable to work, or whose work may be limited due to care needs (eg for whānau with disabilities)

This week’s Budget feels woefully inadequate, she says.


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