Finance Welfare Government wavers after Foodbank cuts attacked

Government wavers after Foodbank cuts attacked

Food banks across Australia are struggling to meet demand. Photo: Getty
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

A charity that feeds 710,000 Australians a month is outraged about a federal funding cut it says might jeopardise its ability to help those in need.

Funding for Foodbank Australia’s Key Staples program – which supplies essentials such as rice, bread and vegetables for hungry people –will drop from $750,000 to $427,000 from January 1.

The cut is because three charities, rather than two, will share in more than $4.5 million of food relief funding over four-and-a-half years from 2019.

Social Services Minister Paul Fletcher said on Monday that OzHarvest would receive funding for the first time, while SecondBite’s share has increased by $100,000.

Foodbank’s $1.9 million share of the grant was more than any other organisation, he added.

After concerns were raised in the media, Mr Fletcher released a statement on Monday afternoon, saying he had spoken with Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey regarding her concerns.

“Foodbank has particularly highlighted its concern that the competitive selection process resulted in it being notified of the decision only a few weeks before the busy Christmas season,” Mr Fletcher said. “I share that concern.

“I have sought urgent advice from my department as to why that happened and for options to provide additional funding to Foodbank to assist in managing the transition to the new arrangements.

“I expect to receive that advice shortly and will be working with Foodbank to resolve this issue.”

Earlier, Mr Fletcher said the total amount of government funding for emergency food relief had been maintained.

“The assessments were made by my department and the advice they’ve given me [is] that adding OzHarvest as one of the food relief providers had some particular capacities in terms of the range of food donors it has relationships [with] in regional and remote Australia,” he told the ABC.

“The choice was made to add them in, so we’ll have three organisations rather than two.”

Ms Casey had said the cut to her organisation put at risk more than $8 million worth of food for families in need.

“We’re feeding more than 710,000 people a month through Foodbank right now, and more than a quarter of those are children,” she told the ABC.

“They’re not the people you’d think, they’re not just homeless people living on the streets. They are people living in your street.

“They are mums and dads, the elderly and retirees, university students, people going through a temporary crisis in their life and they need our help by way of food relief.”

In February, Foodbank asked the government for $10.5 million over three years. Ms Casey said spreading funding across more organisations would hurt the charity’s work as grants were already “woefully inadequate”.

“We know that so many children are affected by food insecurity, they don’t deserve this outcome. We need the Prime Minister to intervene,” she told the ABC.

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would speak to Mr Fletcher about the funding split.

“It was a decision obviously made by the department and we’ll take a look at that,” Mr Morrison told Network Ten.

Foodbank said the funding cut – its third since 2014 – might mean the end of the Key Staples program.

Ms Casey said government funding had gone down from $1.5 million a year three years ago, to the expected $427,000 a year from January 2019, despite growing demand for Foodbank’s services.

“The funding envelope, which I’m sure the Government will defend and say has stayed the same, that is not the issue,” she said.

“The issue is the funding envelope is not big enough in the first place.”

Under the Key Staples program, food manufacturers produce items using spare production capacity and suppliers donate or subsidise ingredients, packaging and delivery.

“This funding program enables us to leverage an extremely modest investment from the government into more than $8 million of essential foods for distribution to 2600 charities around the country,” Ms Casey said.

Foodbank provides 67 million meals a year to charities across the country, as well as more than 1750 schools and is Australia’s largest food provider to schools for breakfast programs

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has written to the government asking for the cut to be reversed. He visited the charity’s Victorian headquarters on Monday.

The Australians Greens say the “callous” and “unnecessary” cuts will have a significant impact on people living in rural and remote areas. The National Farmers’ Federation also criticised the cut.

“We’re baffled and disappointed by this mid-drought, pre-Christmas cut to Foodbank Australia,” it said in a tweet. “Farmers are important contributors to Foodbank, and 40 per cent of people assisted are in the bush. Please rethink this.”

A petition calling for the cuts to be reversed had attracted nearly 10,000 signatures by mid-afternoon on Monday (ADST).

-with agencies