Food grants: Number of New Zealanders getting help with basics continues rising

The number of people seeking Government help for food costs is continuing to rise.

In the last three months, the number of one-off grants issued for food rose to 143,900, at a cost of $14.7m, Ministry of Social Development (MSD) figures show.

That's an increase of more than 50 percent from two years ago, and continues the trend of growing numbers of people requiring help with the basics.

The grants can be accessed by beneficiaries and people on low incomes. The grant money is loaded onto a card and unlike some other MSD loans, it doesn't have to be paid back. It cannot be spent on things like alcohol or cigarettes.

To be eligible, a person must have less than $1076 in savings and earn less than $565 a week.

In 2017, almost half a million food grants were issued by MSD - 100,000 more than the year before.

Food grants: Number of New Zealanders getting help with basics continues rising
Photo credit: Newshub.

Frederick, who didn't want his surname used, is an Aucklander in his 60s.

When his benefit wouldn't go far enough, he asked for a food grant and was given $60.

"I'd finished paying my bills and rent, and I was really short of money," he told Newshub.

"It's awful having to ask for money. Especially when you know you're entitled to it but they don't want to give it. That's the impression I got."

He said he forgoes food like fruit and vegetables "all the time" because they are just too expensive.

The increase in demand is not just affecting MSD. Major Pamela Waugh from the Salvation Army says the charity has also seen a steady increase in the number of food grants its clients need.

She said 12 percent of the Salvation Army's clients are in work, earning "minimal wages" or working insecure hours. Increasing costs of housing, transport and petrol are adding to the pressure.

"They are struggling to make ends meet," she told Newshub.

"They might be doing OK on a day to day basis, but they live from pay cheque to pay cheque. Anything that goes wrong pushes them over the edge and they need support."

The Ministry of Social Development says the rising cost of housing as well as a change that made it easier to access the grants online have led to increased demand.

"In recognition of the difficulties people are experiencing with paying for housing, under the Government's new Families Package we've increased our rates of accommodation assistance by up to $80 a week," Kay Read, Group General Manager, Client Service Delivery, Ministry of Social Development told Newshub.

"It's vital people know there is somewhere to go and options to consider if they need support or help with essential items – this includes food, power, health costs, including medical and dental care, and other costs as well."

Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Ricardo Menendez March says the continued increase in grants is partly down to the cost of housing.

"As the cost of housing continues to increase, people have less and less for food," Mr Menendez March told Newshub.

Mr Menendez March said the Government needs to put forward legislation that will put a cap on rent increases while providing security of tenure.

He warned more and more people will require the grants in future as rents continue to increase.

"We need urgent action on this now."

Political response

The National Party's Social Development spokesperson Louise Upston agrees rising living costs have led to increasing numbers of food grants.

"It's imperative the Government focuses firmly on addressing the drivers of poverty by growing the economy to create more jobs and to lift incomes," she told Newshub.

"National was the first Government in 40 years to lift benefits and during our tenure the number of kids living in material hardship fell by nearly 40 percent."

Meanwhile, the Greens believe benefits need to increase to meet the cost of living, including the cost of groceries.

"These stats are proof we need to raise benefit levels, which are currently inadequate to cover even the basics like food costs, which have been creeping up,"  Social Development spokesperson Jan Logie told Newshub.

"Benefits rates that reflected the real cost of weekly groceries for families would go a long way to reducing these hardship grants.

"The Green Party is committed to raising wages and supports the Government's plans to make lifts in the minimum wage so our poorest families have more money to cover the basics like food."


Minister Carmel Sepuloni was not available to comment for this article.