Each year, McCrindle partners with Foodbank Australia to provide a research-based overview of the issue of food insecurity in Australia.
This 2020 report is unlike any previous Foodbank Hunger Report, as it presents a picture of food insecurity in the midst of a once-in-100-year crisis. COVID-19 is having a profound effect on every aspect of people’s lives, so it is not surprising that it is impacting the food security of Australians. This report looks at how COVID-19, and the responses of governments, businesses and individuals to the pandemic, are affecting the ability of people to have food for themselves and their families.
This report combines insights we collected for Foodbank Australia, gained from both qualitative and quantitative research, bringing together the perspectives of charities and community groups providing front-line food relief as well as individuals experiencing food insecurity.
Demand for food relief is up
COVID-19, and its flow on effects, have changed the face of food insecurity in Australia. The global pandemic has impacted the lives of all Australians, however, those who were already vulnerable before coronavirus hit felt the effects more quickly and more seriously. Prior to COVID-19, the main groups accessing food relief were families living on a low income, the unemployed, single-parent families, the homeless and people with mental illness. Since March this year, some of these groups have become even more vulnerable and are needing to access food relief more often. Young Australians are much more likely to be doing it tough as a result of COVID-19. With these generations more likely to be working casually, many have lost their source of income or had their income reduced.
Many live week to week and as a result are much less likely to have safeguards against sudden changes in the external environment. Early in the pandemic, when some Australians began panic buying and stockpiling, vulnerable Australians faced increased food insecurity as many of the basics disappeared from the shelves and they did not have the resources to stockpile themselves or purchase more expensive alternatives.
Charities have seen a significant increase in the frequency of demand for food relief. In 2019, 15% of Australians experiencing food insecurity were seeking food relief at least once a week. In 2020, this has doubled to 31%.
People are experiencing food insecurity for the first time
While COVID-19 has made life even more difficult for already-vulnerable Australians, it has launched others into food insecurity for the first time. Almost a third of Australians experiencing food insecurity in 2020 (28%) 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. For newly food insecure Australians, COVID-19 has been a catalyst for a chain of negative events of which food insecurity is just a part. As bills pile up and income dwindles, stress and unmet physical needs are likely to cause a decline in mental health.
Government benefits provide only temporary relief
Government benefits, such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker, have been a means of survival for businesses and individuals. For the most vulnerable people in our communities, however, even with these lifelines, it has been anything but smooth sailing. Of those who are in need of government assistance, only 38% suggest government benefits have helped their situation, whereas 62% are not receiving the assistance they need (37% needed additional benefits, 21% were ineligible, 4% found it too difficult).
Although government benefits are providing much needed temporary relief, charities and food insecure Australians alike have a sense of unease about the future as governments plan to withdraw or reduce the additional payments. Almost 28% expect they will not cope well at all if this additional support is no longer available.
Some people are not seeking the help they need
Three in five Australians experiencing food insecurity (61%) have accessed food relief since the advent of COVID-19. Despite many food insecure Australians being in urgent need of help, 39% 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 assistance (33%), embarrassment (33%) and shame (30%).