Foodbank says it is dumbfounded by a Federal Government cut to its staple food program, that it says will hurt regional and rural families suffering in the drought.
The Federal Government claims it is spending more than $200 million across 180 relief agencies to help Australians in need. It says it is giving $4.5 million in funding to three organisations, Foodbank, SecondBite and OzHarvest, to provide food relief.
But Foodbank chief executive officer Brianna Casey said hidden in the figures was an actual cut to their direct food parcel service known as the Key Staples Program.
“We are dumbfounded. This funding program enables us to leverage an extremely modest investment from the government into more than $8 million of essential foods for distribution to 2,600 charities around the country,” Ms Casey said.
“Just last month we released the Foodbank Hunger Report 2018 which exposed that food insecurity is on the rise and people in the bush are 33% more likely to experience it than their city counterparts.
“On top of this we are facing extreme drought conditions across large parts of the country and are coming into the natural disaster season when we know from experience we will see even greater demand for emergency food relief. I just cannot fathom why this is happening at all, let alone at one of the most challenging times of year for vulnerable Australians and our drought-affected communities.”
Foodbank says this latest cut, the third it’s been asked to absorb since 2014, may sound the death knell for its Key Staples Program. This program sees Foodbank collaborate with suppliers, manufacturers and transporters to ensure there are stocks of essential foods, such as breakfast cereal, rice, pasta and canned fruit and vegetables, in its warehouses every day. In this program, food manufacturers produce foods needed using spare production capacity. Suppliers donate or subsidise the ingredients, packaging and delivery of the food to spread the commitment and enhance the sustainability of the program.
“The Federal Government funding is essential to glue these production arrangements together. Despite demand for food relief growing exponentially, government funding for Foodbank has decreased exponentially, reducing from $1.5m a year three years ago to less than half a million dollars a year from January 2019. It beggars belief.”
“In our pre budget submission we made a compelling case for why it is critical that this funding be increased to address the hunger crisis we are currently facing with 4 million Australians exposed to food insecurity every year. Instead, our flagship program is now at risk and our ability to deliver emergency drought relief in times of natural disaster will be compromised,” Ms Casey said. “We call on the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to correct this short sighted decision and commit to ensuring that vulnerable Australians are supported in their time of need,” Brianna said.
Foodbank provides food relief for 710,000 people a month, a quarter of whom are children, the organisation now receives less than half a million dollars in total from the Federal Government to fight hunger in Australia.
Foodbank receives donated food from the farming sector turning its government allocation into $8 million worth of food. Ms Casey said the government spreading the money to other relief organisations, a Peter pays Paul,situation, would not work, and that the entire cake of funding was less.
“Drought takes an incredibly long time to recover from which is why we’re working with our partners across the food and grocery sector, and our broader community, to provide ongoing food and grocery assistance not only now, but right through the drought recovery period,” Ms Casey said..
Federal Minister for Families and Social Services Paul Fletcher announced last week $200 million for 185 community organisations delivering emergency relief.
“The Liberal-National Government’s investment in these essential services improves outcomes for vulnerable families and children and helps to build strong and resilient communities. It will help keep Australians together,” Mr Fletcher said.
“Over 530,000 disadvantaged Australians were helped through this relief last year—providing a vital lifeline during times of crisis, such as illness, family violence or natural disasters such as the drought,” Mr Fletcher said.
This assistance can be in the form of food parcels, clothes, bedding, household items, vouchers for utilities and supermarkets, and can include referrals to services for mental health, crisis housing, drug and alcohol issues or financial counselling.
“This funding enables community organisations to get food supplies to many Australians impacted by crisis, including those currently doing it tough in the bush.
“And we can pay for these vital grants by keeping our economy strong and the federal budget on the path to surplus,” said Mr Fletcher.