Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

'There's just nothing left, there is no money' - Rising rents force families to pick up food parcels

Rising rents are believed to be driving a 46 per cent jump in food parcels being handed out each month by the Auckland City Mission since the middle of last year.

The mission has given out 10,627 parcels in the eight months to the end of February, or 1328 a month -- up by almost half from an average of 911 parcels a month in the year to last June.

Raewyn Wheatman picked up a food parcel today for the fourth time in four weeks as she and her terminally ill husband Dave struggle to pay $425 a week rent for a two-bedroom house in Ranui out of benefits totalling $509.

"I never thought I'd be in a situation where I'd have to use it, but circumstances are beyond your control," she said.

Mrs Wheatman, 57, has worked most of her life in security work and caregiving. Mr Wheatman, 56, also worked as a caregiver until his health deteriorated two years ago.

"He's riddled with cancer," Mrs Wheatman said. "He's lost so much weight his trousers are not fitting any more.

"By the time we turn round to do what we've got to do, there's just nothing left, there is no money."

Raewyn Wheatman said: "I never thought I'd be in a situation where I'd have to use it, but circumstances are beyond your control." Photo / Dean Purcell
Raewyn Wheatman said: "I never thought I'd be in a situation where I'd have to use it, but circumstances are beyond your control." Photo / Dean Purcell

Acting City Missioner Jacki Richardson said rising rents were driving many similar households to ask for food.

"Landlords are using opportunities to increase the rents, but people are not getting increases in their income," she said.

Welfare benefits have been adjusted each year in line with consumer prices, but the accommodation supplement has not been adjusted since April 2005.

In Waitakere, this means that the total benefit and accommodation subsidy for a couple with no children paying the area's average weekly rent has gone up by only 17 per cent since April 2005, whereas the average rent has risen 53 per cent.

Although beneficiaries with children will get a $25 raise this April, benefits will not go up at all this year for those without children because consumer prices rose by only 0.1 per cent in the past year, whereas the average rent in Waitakere rose by 2.4 per cent.

The Wheatmans' basic benefit and accommodation supplement is only $475.20, just $50 more than their rent. But they get an extra $105 a week in "temporary additional support" that is only paid for 13 weeks at a time and is described as "a last resort to help clients with their regular essential living costs".

An Auckland City Mission volunteer packs family food parcels. Photo / Supplied
An Auckland City Mission volunteer packs family food parcels. Photo / Supplied

However $71 of this is clawed back in repayments to Work and Income for previous advances and to a past landlord for a debt arising from taking a fixed-term rental which they had to leave early. That leaves them with just $509, or $84 a week after paying the rent.

Mrs Wheatman is looking for work, but transport is a hurdle. The couple's last car broke down in a supermarket carpark three years ago and they couldn't afford to pay the towing firm to get it back, so she relies on a friend to get around.

"It's very hard, but because we are both trained chefs we can make anything out of nothing," she said. "But we do get sick and tired of mince, we do get sick and tired of baked beans."

Ms Richardson said the mission's food parcel increase might also be partly due to a change in June 2014, when it closed its Otahuhu branch and started distributing food through five partner agencies in South Auckland stretching from Middlemore Hospital to Papakura Marae.

The mission gave out 353 parcels a month in its last year at Otahuhu, and that has jumped by 58 per cent to 559 a month through the five partner agencies in the past eight months.

But it has seen an almost identical 57 per cent increase at its Hobson St base in the same period.

In contrast, the Salvation Army handed out 8 per cent fewer food parcels in Auckland in the year to last December than it did the previous year, compared with a 4 per cent increase in the rest of the country.

Its social service secretary Major Pam Waugh said the army worked with families to stabilise their budgets.

Mean weekly rent in Waitakere:

1 July 2005: $299.18

1 July 2006: $316.45

1 July 2007: $329.49

1 July 2008: $353.60

1 July 2009: $352.74

1 July 2010: $352.67

1 July 2011: $366.47

1 July 2012: $386.19

1 July 2013: $403.77

1 July 2014: $428.49

1 July 2015: $450.26

1 Feb 2016: $458.47

Increase July 2005 to Feb 2016: +53 per cent

Source: MBIE

Weekly benefit for couple with no children paying mean rent in Waitakere

Benefit / Accommodation supplement / Total

1 July 2005 $280.96 / $125.00 / $405.96

1 July 2006 $289.84 /$125.00 / $414.84

1 July 2007 $297.46 / $125.00 / $422.46

1 July 2008 $306.92 / $125.00 / $431.92

1 July 2009 $317.30 / $125.00 / $442.30

1 July 2010 $323.52 / $125.00 / $448.52

1 July 2011 $335.66 / $125.00 / $460.66

1 July 2012 $341.60 / $125.00 / $466.60

1 July 2013 $343.68 / $125.00 / $468.68

1 July 2014 $348.42 / $125.00 / $473.42

1 July 2015 $350.20 / $125.00 / $475.20

1 Feb 2016 $350.20 / $125.00 / $475.20

Increase July 2005 to Feb 2016: + 17 per cent

Source: Work & Income

Auckland City Mission food parcels

Year to June 2006: 4000

Year to June 2007: 5110

Year to June 2008: 4575

Year to June 2009: 5048

Year to June 2010: 7706

Year to June 2011: 9000

Year to June 2012: 10,235

Year to June 2013: 11,168

Year to June 2014: 11,349

Year to June 2015: 10,934

8 months to Feb 2016: 10,627

Increase in monthly average 2005-06 to 2015-16: + 299 per cent

Source: Auckland City Mission

- NZ Herald

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