OPINION: Anyone who doubted that tough times had well and truly hit Southland need only have read our story on Friday about food bank demand in the south.
It did not make for great reading because it revealed that demand for food parcels from the Invercargill Salvation Army Food Bank had doubled this year compared with last year. 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 - and it was only going to get worse.
Alarmingly, the food bank was now receiving working clients, which was something it had not seen before, and they have even got a label - the working poor.
It was not just the selfless Salvation Army organisation which has noticed this new phenomenon, with Southland Food Bank Charitable Trust chairman Peter Swain saying double-income families and a growing number of pensioners now also needed help.
"It's a growing industry - not the one you'd really want, is it?," Mr Swain said.
Most definitely not, but why is it happening?
There is no simple answer. But quite clearly the recession that first took hold in New Zealand about three years ago has parked up in Southland and does not look to be moving on in the immediate future.
Welfare cuts and redundancies are really hurting. Just run your eyes over this to help it sink in. New Zealand Aluminium Smelters has announced it will lay off 65 staff during the next two months to streamline operations, Alliance Group is shifting its sheepmeat processing from Mataura to its Lorneville plant, while Blue Sky Meats is proposing wage cuts to workers.
There have been 10 redundancies at the Department of Conservation's Invercargill office and eight fulltime and 13 part-time roles were affected by the closure of The Southland Times print plant.
Last September, we should certainly not forget, the Inland Revenue Department announced 54 staff would be cut from its Invercargill office.
These are trying, stressful times for many families in the south, so it's no surprise the need for food parcels is on the up.
Of course, it's not just a problem in Southland. Other provinces and cities are much worse off. And though it's true that New Zealand may never be afflicted by the massive, life-or-death starvation that can ravage entire countries, the ongoing struggle for many in this country is one that Prime Minister John Key and the Government have to work much harder to address.
In the meantime, what can we do? We can certainly offer our support and donations to all food bank organisations, which have so far been able to manage.
This is also very much a time when we need our neighbours and our communities to be caring and to help each other out, particularly those less fortunate and too proud to ask for assistance. That should not stop us at least becoming aware of their needs and being ready to step in.
For all concerned, it is a difficult and probably confusing situation. For those of us fortunate enough to have a surfeit of food in our lives, we cannot imagine a Southland where poverty hunger, or close to it, is a weekly existence for many. It is something worth pondering. We need to act to help those in need.
- The Southland Times
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