Across Australia, 3.7m households have experienced food insecurity over the past 12 months, a jump of almost 350,000 on the previous year, Foodbank’s annual hunger report has revealed.
More than 2.3m of those households were “severely food insecure”, meaning they were actively going hungry, reducing food intake, skipping meals or going entire days without eating.
The report, based on a survey of 4,342 people conducted in July, revealed that compared with 2022, about 383,000 additional households struggled to put food on the table.
The biggest driver of food insecurity was the cost-of-living crisis, with 77% of households saying it was the main reason, up from 64% in 2022. This was followed by low-income employment and inadequate welfare payments, with 42% of respondents saying that was a contributing factor.
More than half (60%) of all food insecure households had someone in paid work.
Micheal Coe lost his job last December because of ongoing seizures, and his wife became the main breadwinner for them and their three children, aged nine, seven and four. His wife’s part-time income, coupled with Coe’s disability pension, was not enough to keep food on the table for their growing family.
“With three children and a disability … it’s not enough with the [high] cost of living,” Coe said.
The family rent a three-bedroom house in Adelaide’s northern suburbs for $450 a week. He worries about renting for life and wants to offer his children housing security, but knows this is almost impossible in their situation.
“The ability to get a home is so difficult when the cost of living and rent is so high,” he said.
“So either rent assistance needs to go up, so people can save enough … or if people are buying investment properties, make it a little bit harder for them to buy five or six houses. I think that could help.
Foodbank Australia’s CEO, Brianna Casey, said the country was in “the midst of a food security crisis”.
“What we are seeing now is that 77% of those experiencing food insecurity, they’re experiencing it for the very first time,” she said.
“They skew towards younger, they skew towards mid to high income and they also skew towards having a job.”
The number of households experiencing chronic food insecurity remained stable at about 750,000, she said.
But people’s shopping habits were changing – 48% of respondents reported reducing purchases of fresh produce and protein, which could have flow-on health effects.
Casey said if the current trend continued, by the end of 2023 half the Australian population would have faced some level of difficulty in meeting their food needs.
“What we’re seeing now is that people are needing at least one and a half if not two full-time jobs or equivalent in order to keep up with bills that one job might have looked after before.”