AN annual Foodbank report reveals a surge in demand at food charities across Australia during the COVID-19 crisis, with young people hardest hit, while casual workers and international students are among the “newly food insecure”.
The report released at the start of Poverty Week, shows 65 per cent of Australia’s food-insecure are 18 to 25-year-olds going without food at least once a week.
Foodbank, the major charity supplying food and groceries to Australians in need, reports overall demand for food relief is up by an average of 47 per cent as the pandemic continues to turn lives upside down.
Stress, depression, anxiety and sadness are the emotions experienced by those people experiencing food insecurity, according to the report, while COVID-19 has also heavily impacted on relationships.
Almost three in five Australians (58 per cent) have experienced an increased feeling of loneliness because of the pandemic.
The proportion of food-insecure Australians seeking food relief at least once a week has more than doubled since last year, from 15 per cent to 31 per cent.
Foodbank surveyed about 500 charities once a month between April and September, as well as 1,000 Australians aged 18 and older who had experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months.
“While COVID-19 has made life even more difficult for already-vulnerable Australians, it has launched others into food insecurity for the first time,” the Foodbank report said.
“Almost a third of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 (28 per cent) had never experienced it before COVID-19.
“Charities have seen two newly food insecure groups emerging as a result of the pandemic: the casual workforce and international students.”
International students have been amongst the most vulnerable during the pandemic because they are ineligible for access to JobSeeker or JobKeeper payments.
The Foodbank report said COVID-19 had been a catalyst for a chain of negative events in the lives of Australia’s casual workers who had lost jobs.
“As bills pile up and income dwindles, stress and unmet physical needs are likely to cause a decline in mental health,” the report said.
“Despite many food insecure Australians being in urgent need of help, 39 per cent have not accessed food relief during the pandemic.
“The most common barriers to seeking assistance include thinking there might be other people more in need (33 per cent), embarrassment (33 per cent) and shame (30 per cent). “
While acknowledging the relief offered by government assistance – the doubling of the JobSeeker payment and the introduction of the JobKeeper subsidy – the Foodbank report said these lifelines only provide temporary relief at a crucial time.
“… charities and food insecure Australians alike have a sense of unease about the future as governments plan to withdraw or reduce the additional payments,” the report said.
“Almost 35 per cent don’t know how they will cope or expect they will not cope well at all when this additional support is no longer available.”