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Wairarapa Midweek has partnered with Planalytics to launch this campaign, shedding light on food poverty in our region and highlighting the efforts of those who are working to address the need.

Hayley Gastmeier

Having access to money plays a massive part in people’s ability to eat and eat well.

Not surprisingly, research shows people living in low decile areas are at high risk of experiencing food poverty.

And stigma, transport, and awareness are key barriers keeping people from accessing the help they may need.

These themes are among research findings by Planalytics, a Greytown-based consultancy that authored the report, Waste Not, Want Not: Food Insecurity in Wairarapa.

This report is the basis for Midweek’s Hand to Mouth series, which was launched last week.

To recap, food insecurity, sometimes called food poverty, exists when people do not have adequate physical, social, or economic access to food.

The report cites a Wellington-based study, Food Costs for Families, that found that having a job didn’t necessarily prevent food insecurity.

Families receiving the minimum wage spent 50 per cent of their income (after tax is deducted) to buy healthy food.

Families living solely on benefits and in public housing are even worse off, spending 66 per cent (before tax but after accommodation costs) to eat healthy.

With healthy food bills chewing up such large proportions of incomes, it’s understandable that ‘healthy’ food might not be prioritised when it comes to shopping trolley selection.

Lucy Cooper, principal analyst at Planalytics and lead researcher on the The Waste Not, Want Not report said it was money, not nutrition know-how that was a key barrier to making healthy food choices.

“Our review of the current literature showed that a reduction in the price of healthy foods actually stimulates change in purchasing decisions.”

Studies have found that there is greater prevalence of food insecurity within Māori and Pacific households.

“New Zealand research we looked at found that large families, young people, and women were also more at risk of food insecurity.”

The report concluded there was an absence of formal guidance available at a national level regarding how to identify and address food insecurity for New Zealanders.

“Our research found that responses to food insecurity in New Zealand, historically and today, appear to be far more localised.

“They include initiatives like food banks, school breakfast clubs and, more recently, community food pantries or pātaka kai”.

Why does food insecurity exist?

A key factor identified as leading to food insecurity was the cost of living.

Low wages and benefits continue to fall behind the cost of living, with rent, power, and petrol putting pressure on the amount of money whanau have available to spend on food.

The lack of public housing in Wairarapa means many people on low incomes must access the private rental sector or emergency housing.

Planalytics spoke with numerous social sector agencies which noted that recent increases to accommodation supplements had been met by corresponding increases in rent, “leaving beneficiaries no better off and in some cases, worse off”.

Several agencies interviewed anticipated the number of ‘working poor’ needing food assistance would increase, as would the number of older people affected by food insecurity living in Wairarapa.

What’s stopping people from accessing help?

Food insecurity has been described as a “wicked problem”.

A key New Zealand study cited in Waste Not Want Not, the Family 100 Research Project engaged with families experiencing poverty and noted that there was often many factors such as debt, housing, health and education, that could act together to keep people experiencing food poverty trapped in a state of constant hardship.

This complexity frustrates efforts to address food insecurity on its own.

While it is important to note that Planalytics’ research was agency focused, not client focused, the report found that these findings were echoed here in Wairarapa.

Interviews with 25 participants from 18 agencies were conducted, with interviewees recognising a number of barriers they considered got in the way of their clients’ ability to access food that met the needs of themselves and their whanau.

A 2006 study, Food Insecurity and the Food Bank Industry, stated there was a perceived social stigma attached to using food banks and other social services that alleviated food insecurity, with associated feelings of shame, embarrassment and humiliation.

Planalytics said interview participants identified similar barriers, with one agency saying “the stigma of having to ask” was significant particularly for older people.

“People may not want to be seen visiting a food bank or feel uncomfortable providing personal details to an agency in order to secure emergency food help,” the Waste Not, Want Not report stated.

“Concern was raised by several interview participants that referral procedures were sometimes felt to be judgemental and made clients ‘jump through hoops’.”

Transport was also identified as a barrier.

People experiencing food insecurity often lacked the resources to own and maintain a car, relying on public transport, or friends and family to get around.

Those who do own a car have petrol and maintenance costs which eat into food budgets.

The lack of cheap, regular public transport between Wairarapa’s main towns meant it was challenging to get to food banks during opening hours, or to other appointments or courses.

Isolation due to age, health, or living rurally were identified as factors contributing to food need.

“Wairarapa has a large, sparsely populated rural area, which is not served by public transport,” Planalytics said.

“Interview participants identified that people experiencing food insecurity in rural areas may struggle to access services, such as food banks, to alleviate food need.”

Older people may have physical limitations or health issues that keep them from being able to access food initiatives.

One agency highlighted the implications of the food insecurity and ill health cycle.

“For example, beneficiaries who are diabetics cannot afford the right kind of food for their condition, which exacerbates their health condition.”

An agency interviewed said addiction could also impact on the amount of money a family or individual had to spend on food.

A lack of awareness of available services was also raised as a barrier.

It was an issue that affected both people experiencing food need, and agencies helping to address it.

  • Next time we’ll look at how and who is tackling the issue of food poverty here in Wairarapa.
  • Have you been affected by food insecurity? If you would like to share your story, email Midweek@age.co.nz

Planalytics is a Greytown-based consultancy providing research, analysis, facilitation and monitoring services to inform decision-making in the urban and community development sectors. Waste Not, Want Not was commissioned by Connecting Communities Wairarapa and funded by Department for Internal Affairs and the Lottery Grants Board Te Puna Tahua. You can access the full report from the Planalytics website, www.planalytics.co.nz