Government Backtracks on Cuts to Food Relief Charity
12 November 2018 at 5:42 pm
The federal government has reversed funding cuts to Australia’s largest food charity, following a severe backlash from the sector and the wider public.
The Minister for Social Services, Paul Fletcher, last week announced cuts of $323,000 to Foodbank under an arrangement that would redistribute $4.5 million of food relief funding between three organisations (Foodbank, Oz Harvest and Second Bite) over the next four and a half years.
But Fletcher said on Tuesday morning, Foodbank’s funding would be maintained at $750,000 per year, and the other two charities would be funded the same as announced last week.
“The extra funding will enable a stronger focus on drought relief, while continuing existing service levels around Australia,” Fletcher said.
Foodbank said on Monday the funding changes meant one of its key programs would be slashed by half – to just $427,000 – less than a third of the $1.5 million allocated three years ago to deliver the same program.
The program provides pantry essentials such as rice, flour, cereals and canned goods to 2,600 charities and 1,750 schools around the country, through partnerships with manufacturers, suppliers and transporters.
Sikander, a casually employed bus driver from Melbourne, is one of the 710,000 Australians relying on Foodbank programs to keep them and their families from going hungry each day.
Sikander and his family started using Foodbank two months ago after his wife injured her back lifting their six-month old baby, forcing him to stop work, and care for his wife and young family.
He said the bills, rent and costs of a young family started to add up.
“The recovery was taking a long time, and very quickly our bank accounts were drying up,” Sikander told Pro Bono News.
“It was hard to buy food when we had all the other bills to pay as well.”
The discovery of Foodbank eased financial pressures considerably.
“I was able to put the food on the table for my seven-year-old daughter, and my six-month old baby… if we didn’t find Foodbank, we might have lost our house,” he said.
He said he was extremely worried about the funding cuts, and what they would mean for getting food on the table, and keeping up with bills.
“Because we really rely on the Foodbank, I’m worried. My brain is running all the time, thinking about how I’m going to buy food and pay the rent.”
Fletcher said he had met with Foodbank’s CEO Brianna Casey on Monday, and that she had expressed concern of only being notified of the changes a few weeks before the busy Christmas period.
“I share that concern,” Fletcher said.
He said he had sought urgent advice from his department on why Foodbank was given such short notice, and what could be done about it.
“I am seeking advice into options for 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,” he said.
Foodbank’s Brianna Casey said she was dumbfounded by the cuts.
“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 2,600 charities around the country,” Casey said.
She said the funding cuts were badly timed – with natural disaster season approaching, and Christmas only six weeks away.
“We know from experience we will see even greater demand for emergency food relief. I just cannot fathom why this is happening at all, let alone at one of the most challenging times of year for vulnerable Australians and our drought-affected communities,” Casey said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said the cuts would affect children, young people and those living in remote and regional areas the the most.
“These are callous and unnecessary cuts… the reality is, we have at the moment in this country is a government who targets those with the least to make small ‘savings’, right before Christmas,” Siewert said.
Sikander said the thought of providing for his family on Christmas, and for the rest of the year, was stressful without certainty of help from Foodbank.
“I’m getting worried, because if I was going to provide for Christmas or anytime really, I’d have to work more and in my current situation, where I’m looking after my family, I can’t really do that,” he said.