A rising number of people in the region are struggling to afford food, social services providers say.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Society at a Glance 2014, says 17 per cent of New Zealanders say they do not have money to buy sufficient food.
The report, which looks at a range of indicators to compare current social conditions in OECD countries with those before the global financial crisis, says in 2007, 10 per cent of New Zealanders reported not always having enough money to buy food.
Indran Mylvaganam, co-ordinator and manager of Palmerston North budgeting service Financial Freedom Trust, said food was often the casualty when people struggled to make ends meet.
"We certainly have seen the trend that a lot of people are finding it difficult to manage," he said yesterday.
This was true across all age groups, but an ever-increasing number of young people were going to the service for help after becoming overwhelmed by debt and unable to prioritise their expenditure.
"People have not learned basic skills in managing their money, and I guess that's something that schools haven't been equipping them with."
The cost of living was also a factor, he said.
"Housing seems to be becoming unaffordable for a lot of young people, with the cost of rent. Many of them on a benefit are having to stretch limited funds to cover their accommodation and living costs.
"Often food gets compromised."
Free food store Just Zilch's co-ordinator Rebecca Culver said there had recently been a noticeable rise in the number of working people visiting the store as they struggled to make ends meet.
The number of visits to the free food store had been rising steadily since it opened its doors in June 2011.
In the first year of operation, the number of visits averaged 80.4 a day. That rose to 99.33 in the second year, and was now at 120.19.
Some of that could be attributed to increased awareness of the service.
"But there's a lot of need, and we're getting new people in almost every single day. The fact that we're still getting new people coming in, as well as the old ones, I think is significant," she said.
She said she was still seeing families struggle, "and there are people who maybe just need help for one night, or one week, but sometimes they need help for longer as well".
Palmerston North Street Van and Shepherd's Rest co-ordinator Lew Findlay said the OECD finding rang true. "It wouldn't surprise me at all. The amount of people on benefits and ACC that are only just surviving - in fact, they're not. They're using places like Just Zilch and Methodist Social Services to get their food."
He said some of his agency's clients would depend wholly on those charities "because their money gets spent, and sometimes in not wise areas".
However, the cost of living was also contributing, especially with people on benefits.
"Electricity's gone up in price, everything's gone up in price and benefits haven't gone up at the same rate."
He said there were many superannuitants who were in the same situation.
- Manawatu Standard
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