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Waikato sees increased demand for food charity

Published: 6:45AM Monday April 01, 2013 Source: Fairfax

The number of Waikato residents seeking food charity has increased drastically since 2008, according to new figures released by the Salvation Army.

More than 8200 families and individuals queued for food parcels at Salvation Army centres across Waikato, Bay of Plenty and East Coast last year - up 40% on 2008.

And although food bank usage is stabilising, it is still significantly higher than five years ago.

In 2008, the Salvation Army gave out 5868 food parcels across the midlands division, but that jumped to 7181 in 2009, and rose steadily to 8209 last year.

"Food prices continue to rise and benefits don't move at the same rate, and I think that is one of the big issues for our clients," Colonel Ross Gower, director of the Salvation Army's Hamilton Community Ministries, said.

However, Colonel Gower said it was not just beneficiaries who were seeking assistance.

"It would be families with no income, or the working poor; people that do have an income but aren't able to make ends meet because their income isn't sufficient to keep things going." Many were struggling to find jobs, Colonel Gower said.

The latest unemployment figures for Waikato show the number of people on the unemployment benefit increased 33% between September and December last year to 3699 - 65.9% more than in December 2008.

However, the rise in unemployment and increase in food charity provided by the Salvation Army is not in step with Government assistance.

Food grants awarded to Waikato residents by Work and Income have been in decline since 2010.

Of the 592,655 food grants made to New Zealanders in urgent need of assistance in 2010, 36,493 were awarded to Waikato residents. That figure plummeted to 359,937 nationally and 20,822 in Waikato by the end of 2012.

The Government introduced tough new rules in September 2010, tightening the eligibility criteria for people who apply for hardship payments more than once in 12 months.

The Ministry of Social Development did not reply to questions from Fairfax as to how the drop could be accounted for, but said WINZ worked closely with applicants to reduce their costs or increase their income.

"We also explore other options with clients such as completing a budgeting worksheet," said Te Rehia Papesch, Waikato regional commissioner for Ministry of Social Development.

"If a client applies for their sixth hardship grant within 12 months, we work more intensively with them and refer them to a budgeting course."