Finance Your Budget Food relief agencies ‘nervous’ as more Australians unable to pay for meals

Food relief agencies ‘nervous’ as more Australians unable to pay for meals

An empty plate next to an approved mortgage form.
Mortgage stress is leaving more and more Australians unable to pay for food. Photo: Getty
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More employed Australians and home owners are relying on food banks to make ends meet, leaving charity bosses “nervous” about the future.

Four million Australians were unable to put a meal on the table at some point in the year to October 2018, research from the country’s largest food relief network, Foodbank, found.

Almost half of those were employed in some form – part-time, casual or  working multiple jobs – but couldn’t afford food after paying housing costs.

High housing expenses have driven many vulnerable Australians to see food as a discretionary expense that can be cut to keep the roof over their head, Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey told The New Daily.

Australia’s major banks are now even trying to negotiate with Foodbank relief centres to help vulnerable customers meet their mortgage repayments when times are tough.

The ABC reported several banks are looking to provide customers in South Australia with food vouchers to prevent them from defaulting on mortgage repayments.

“The reliance on Foodbank and the Foodbank network is higher than it’s ever been,” Ms Casey said.

“In the current climate of low wage rates and housing affordability issues, the reality is that if you’re living mortgage payment to mortgage payment, it simply doesn’t take much to tip the household budget over the edge.”

The next year is expected to present further challenges, Ms Casey said.

Foodbank relies heavily on donations from Australia’s farmers to get healthy food to people who need it most, but worsening drought conditions means that supply could wither while simultaneously forcing farming communities to rely on Foodbank too, adding to demand.

“We’re really nervous,” she said.

Problem going to get worse

Anglicare chief executive Kasy Chambers told The New Daily it was good to see banks proactively connect vulnerable customers with food relief services.

But with many relief providers “stretched beyond their limit” already, additional demand will only add to the sector’s woes.

Meanwhile, little work is being done to address the drivers of the problem, namely expensive property values, rising rents, insufficient minimum wages and low welfare payments, she said.

“Banks reaching out to food relief organisations is a recognition from corporate Australia that the way we’re structuring things isn’t working,” Ms Chambers said.

That insecurity is going to get worse before it gets better.”

Mortgage arrears highest in a decade

The number of home owners falling behind on their mortgages has also grown in recent years, climbing to 1 per cent of all home loans.

While that’s not enough to endanger the economy, it is the highest rate of arrears in Australia since the global financial crisis. And it’s expected to worsen.

Reserve Bank of Australia head of financial stability Jonathan Kearns said the growth in arrears had been driven chiefly by stagnating wages and growing living costs squeezing mortgage holders.

Wage growth is now not expected to pick up until 2021.

However, Mr Kearns added that a 1 per cent arrears rate is well below historic highs set in the early 1990s and isn’t cause for alarm just yet.

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