Rising housing costs contribute to ‘enormous’ jump in government food grants
Government spending on emergency food grants has risen by 25 per cent in the past year, as the rising cost of housing bites into family budgets.
In the year to September, total amount distributed in special needs grants was $30.8 million, up from $24.6m the previous year. The total number of grants also rose, by 18.7 per cent to 174,683.
The highest number of grants distributed by Work & Income were in Waitakere, Invercargill and Porirua. But one of the bigger increases was seen in the Wellington suburb of Newtown, where total spending of $319,782 was up by $100,000 over the previous year.
Wellington City Mission chief executive Michelle Branney described the increase as “enormous”, and the Ministry of Social Development said Wellington’s figures reflected a national trend.
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The figures coincide with a record $12.6 million spend on emergency housing grants in May to July this year.
Major Lee Edney, of the Salvation Army, said higher housing costs were creating hardship.
“The cost of housing has increased considerably, and our services are saying that’s what they’re seeing as the main need for people coming in.
“The fact is you’ve got to pay rent or you lose your house; you pay power or you lose your electricity.
“Those things do take priority for most people, and food can often be the last thing on their list.”
Kay Read, the ministry’s group general manager, client services, said: “We have increased our spending on food grants across the country by more than 25 per cent over the past year, responding to people in need.
“This increase is due largely to rising housing costs.
“We still have some work to do to see clients more quickly. We know it’s really important to help clients as soon as possible when they’re in need.”
Branney said the Wellington City Mission always told clients to check whether they were eligible for food grants as a “first port of call”.
Food-related special needs grants do not need to be paid back, and the size of a grant is dependent on a person’s individual circumstances.
Work & Income’s website suggests emergency help could be available for beneficiaries or low-income earners who may have had to meet essential bills for doctors’ visits, dental treatment, clothing for a job interview, or school clothes or materials for children.
Income limits usually apply, with a single adult needing to earn less than $557.78 a week (before tax), while a sole parent with two children usually needs to have annual income of under $37,080.
In Wellington, total food grant spending was $2.8m. In Naenae, Lower Hutt, $566,968 was distributed in almost 5000 grants, amounting to one of the bigger spends nationwide.
Porirua issued more grants in 2016-17 than the previous year – up from 6635 to 6709 – but the total spend dropped, while Upper Hutt’s figures remained steady.
Food grant requests throughout Auckland’s Work & Income outlets (in Waitakere, Queen St, Onehunga, Manukau, and Albany) remained stagnant over the past two years. A total of 19,500 grants were approved in the year to June.
In the South Island, $424,364 was distributed in Dunedin Central, an increase over the previous year of just under $60,000.
FOOD-RELATED SPECIAL NEEDS GRANTS, YEAR TO JUNE 2017
* Queen St: $396,328 (3950 grants)
* Waitakere: $916,295 (8616)
* Onehunga: $314,578 (2881)
* Manukau: $367,293 (3245)
* Hamilton Central: $258,028 (2839)
* Johnsonville: $206,885 (1900)
* Lower Hutt: $199,784 (1977)
* Naenae: $566,968 (4992)
* Newtown: $319,782 (2978)
* Porirua: $765,187 (6709)
* Upper Hutt: $290,827 (2611)
* Wainuiomata: $213,582 (1792)
* Wellington: $239,701 (2812)
* Riccarton: $80,302 (904)
* Dunedin Central: $424,364 (4459)
* Invercargill: $798,675 (6957)
Source: Ministry of Social Development