'Working poor' lift food bank demand

NICCI MCDOUGALL AND LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 05/10/2012

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A growing number of "working poor" in Southland are putting a strain on food banks as people struggle with job cuts.

Demand for food parcels at the Invercargill Salvation Army Food Bank has doubled this year compared with last year.

Volunteer Jan Smithies said the food bank supplied 483 clients with food parcels between June 1, 2010 and June 1, 2011 but it had supplied 821 in the 2011-2012 year.

Captain Russell Garbett said the food bank was now receiving working clients - something it had not seen before.

"I think it's a new phenomenon - the working poor," he said.

Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust chairman Peter Swain had also witnessed the "working poor" phenomenon.

"You can have double income families and still not manage. It's not good. It's a bit worrying."

What was also particularly troubling was an increase in pensioners needing assistance, he said.

"It's right across the whole system.

"It's a growing industry - not the one you'd really want, is it?"

The organisation had given out 1400 food packages, down from last year's total of 1981 but with three more months and the busy holiday period to come, Mr Swain was predicting the final count would far exceed last year.

"All is not right in the town . . . it's probably political and welfare cuts and redundancies."

Major job changes in the south include New Zealand Aluminium Smelters announcing it would lay off 65 staff during the next two months to streamline operations, Alliance Group shifting its sheepmeat processing from Mataura to its Lorneville plant, Blue Sky Meats proposing wage cuts to workers, 10 redundancies at the Department of Conservation's Invercargill office, with a further eight shifted to Christchurch and Wellington, eight fulltime and 13 part-time roles affected by the closure of The Southland Times print plant, and last September the Inland Revenue Department announced 54 staff would be cut from its Invercargill office.

Jubilee Budget Advisory Service manager Simon Tierney said it dealt with a number of salary and wage earners and people who had been made redundant.

The advisory usually heard from people after they had exhausted other avenues such as juggling debt or spending a redundancy payout, he said.

"If someone is made redundant today calling a budget service is probably not in their immediate plan even though it is a good idea."

Queenstown Salvation Army corps leader Kenneth Walker said the demand for food had remained consistent but the price of food had skyrocketed.

So far this year, it had given out only 11 more packages than the same period last year, but had spent an extra $6000 on food to fill them.

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These high food prices were one of the main reasons people turned to food banks for support, he said.

"People run themselves very close to the line in terms of their income."

When something unexpected, like a high power bill cropped up, "that throws them over".

- The Southland Times

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