PM’s food relief backflip welcomed

Liz Bell

A MAJOR Gippsland food relief charity has welcomed the backflip by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on a Foodbank funding cut that would have affected  hundreds of hungry Wellington Shire families every year.

The federal government last Sunday announced plans to halve Foodbank’s funding from January, but reinstated it on Tuesday last week after a public backlash.

Gippsland Farmer Relief, which helps about 100 people every month throughout Gippsland, including Wellington Shire, is one of the charities that works with Foodbank to get food to people in need.

Last year, Foodbank provided 11,826 kilograms to Gippsland Farmer Relief.

Chief executive Melissa Ferguson said the Prime Minister’s latest decision to maintain funding was a “huge relief”.

“We are a charity with volunteers that work full time, on the ground, to assist struggling farming families and we get little support to do that,” she said.

“We recently received about $30,000 from Gippsland relief Fund, and that was fantastic, but we get no help from councils either in East Gippsland or Wellington Shire.”

Gippsland Farmer Relief secretary Jan Stirling said with drought conditions worsening — in the past few months, almost double the number of families had been accessing the service.

“Farmers are some of the toughest and proudest members of our community and never want to admit they need help or that they are doing it tough — but they are,” she said.

“One of the saddest things we’ve lost is the farming culture.

“There’s no father putting their young child on a tractor and saying this will all be yours someday.

“There’s just no security the farm will be working for another generation, let alone another year.

“The farming dynasties are dying out in this somewhat forgotten pocket of east Gippsland,” said Ms Sterling.

The Foodbank Hunger Report out last month revealed almost one in five Australians had run out of food in the past 12 months and were unable to buy more.

The food insecurity crisis is even worse in regional and remote areas — with people living in the country 33 per cent more likely to go hungry than those living in capital and major cities.

Foodbank Victoria chief executive Dave McNamara said many charities were under strain from increased demand and lack of resources.

“We’ve got more people struggling to make ends meet and when times are tough, food becomes discretionary,” he said.

“People are going hungry in order to pay their bills.

“Children are going without food.

“The fact that this is happening in the ‘lucky country’ is shocking for some, but a reality for far too many.

“We need policies that better support our most vulnerable, and this includes food security and equal access to healthy food.”

The Hunger Report found the high cost of living and low incomes were the main reasons people were unable to afford food.

Almost three in five food insecure Australians spent more than 20 per cent of their total household income on food (compared to 10 per cent for the average household).

At least once a week, 54 per cent of those surveyed skipped meals, and 26 per cent went an entire day without eating at all.

The report also revealed some of the impacts of food insecurity — declining mental health, lethargy and feelings of shame.

While more food insecure Australians were seeking food relief from charities, only 40 per cent of people felt they could talk to friends and family about their situation.

Foodbank is helping to feed 710,000 Australians every month.

In Victoria last year, more than eight million kilograms of food and grocery items were distributed to 459 Foodbank charity partners.

Foodbank Victoria also runs the largest school breakfast clubs program in the country.

With funding from the state government, more than 50,000 breakfasts are served weekly in 500 of the most disadvantaged state primary schools.