Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Charities' food handouts at record after Govt cuts

Anthony Oppatt says he received six or seven food grants after losing his job in January but was knocked back recently when he tried to get more. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Anthony Oppatt says he received six or seven food grants after losing his job in January but was knocked back recently when he tried to get more. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The Government has slashed the number of food grants to needy families by 20 per cent, driving record numbers to seek food parcels from charities instead.

Work and Income NZ data supplied to the Council of Christian Social Services shows that taxpayer-funded food grants almost doubled from 71,189 in the June quarter of 2008 to 133,153 in the same quarter last year as families reeled from the impact of the global financial crisis.

But grants have been cut back to just 106,767 in the June quarter this year after the rules changed in March to make people complete budgeting activities, and show they have taken steps to increase their income or reduce their costs, before they can get more than two food grants a year.

The cuts helped to drive food parcels given out by the Salvation Army nationally and the Auckland City Mission to record levels in the year to June.

Unemployed Mangere father Anthony Oppatt, 50, had to get a food parcel from the City Mission's Otahuhu branch when he and his wife Lita and their children Tino, 11, and Rosemary, 8, ran out of food.

"Tamaki Health Care sent us there and they organised a food parcel for us to keep us going," he said.

He said the family got six or seven food grants from Work and Income after he lost his job as an Armourguard security guard in January, but were then refused any more because they had used up their entitlement.

When they applied again recently, they could get only a $50 grant because the maximum for a couple and two children is $450 in any six-month period.

City Missioner Diane Robertson said the drop in Work and Income grants did not reflect any decrease in need because the City Mission still gave out the same numbers of food parcels in August and September as in the same two months last year.

"I'm concerned that people can't access them because the rules have tightened," she said. "We had a direct correlation between tightening in food grants and an increase in our numbers."

The Salvation Army gave out 6.4 per cent more food parcels in the three months to June than in the same period last year, excluding earthquake-related grants in Christchurch.

But the army's data point to a possible recovery in Auckland and Northland, where unemployment fell in the June quarter. Food parcels in the army's northern division dropped to 7 per cent below the same time last year, while numbers kept on rising in all other regions from the Waikato south.

Auckland City Mission food parcels also levelled off in August and September compared with the same period last year, after rising for three years.

Unemployment benefit numbers fell by 15 per cent from 65,281 in September last year to 55,661 at the end of last month, and overall benefit numbers fell by 2.7 per cent to 328,496.

But the Council of Christian Social Services said these reductions were also partly because of tighter rules for all benefits which came into force between September last year and March.

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