• There are varied causes behind food insecurity. (Getty/Icon Sportswire)Source: Getty/Icon Sportswire
Low income, a high cost of living and a lack of political will make food insecurity a growing problem in Australia.
Alana Schetzer

26 May 2020 - 12:36 PM  UPDATED 9 Jun 2020 - 1:06 PM

More than one in five Australians do not have access to enough food. Given the collective wealth of the country, it's a modern-day tragedy.

According to experts, it's a tragedy that we can actually address, but not enough political will leaves the problem - and millions of people - in the dark. 

The causes of food insecurity can be placed into three categories: lack of money to buy food, poor access to food, and food not being prepared or cooked properly.

Foodbank, an Australian food relief organisation, stated in its 2019 report that the flow-on may have significant impacts on a person's mental health (such as an increase in anxiety and psychological distress) and physical health including tiredness and lethargy.

Australia's most vulnerable to food insecurity, other than homeless people, are those who are unemployed, single-parent households, renters, young people, low-income earners, Indigenous people, and those from a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. But with the cost of living rising, especially for housing and energy, food banks are increasingly seeing employed people and families with children needing help.

Jim Mullen, chief executive of food charity SecondBite, says that unlike other countries - where food insecurity has been a highly visual and obvious problem for some time - in Australia, the problem has largely flown under the radar.

Mullen says, "What has been really surprising to me, in this role, has been that it's not who you think it is who needs help with food. It's people who have dependent children, who are on pensions, on welfare and more and more people who are in the gig economy and underemployed."

"It's not who you think it is who needs help with food. It's people who have dependent children, who are on pensions, on welfare and more and more people who are in the gig economy and underemployed."

He says while food relief organisations do the best that they can, they cannot solve the problem. "We are the sticking plaster on a gaping wound. But if this long-term problem is to be addressed, then the commercial sector also needs to be involved because not-for-profits are simply struggling to keep up with demand, let alone plan for years in advance." 

The COVID-19 crisis, which has largely put the world on hold, has radically increased the demand for emergency food parcels. But even before that, charities and organisations could not keep up with requests for help; Foodbank reported last year that demand had soared by a staggering 37 per cent in the past 12 months.

Contrast this with the fact that there is indeed enough food produced each year to feed every person in Australia, and that an estimated $20 billion of food is thrown out every year.

Ronni Kahn, founder and chief executive of food charity OzHarvest, says there is no "quick fix", but it should begin with a "serious commitment" from governments.

"In the same way we are tackling food waste, a national target to reduce the number of people who rely on food relief each year should be set, along with a detailed review of all the contributing factors to help us understand the scale of the problem," Kahn says.

Filthy Rich & Homeless premieres over three consecutive nights – June 9, 10 and 11 – on SBS at 8:30pm. The show will be available at SBS On Demand after the broadcast, including in subtitled Simplified Chinese and Arabic.

Join the conversation #FilthyRichHomeless

The woman who travels around Melbourne to feed the homeless
This Victorian is committed to delivering home-cooked meals packed with love during the COVID-19 crisis.
These flatmates are feeding the community from their doorstep
The Newtown Blessing Box began with a recycled cupboard and some tins. Now it's feeding the community and inspiring people across Sydney.
The Sri Lankan restaurant feeding Sydney's vulnerable
Instead of closing during the pandemic, Colombo Social has enlisted top chefs to feed asylum seekers and other vulnerable members of society.
A new low-cost grocery store is helping inner-city residents doing it tough to eat better
People living on a low income, new arrivals to Australia, the homeless and those struggling to find employment will now have access to a new low-cost grocery store, situated on a housing estate in inner-city Sydney.
When you're homeless, how do you eat to stay somewhat healthy?
If you don't have a home with a kitchen and cupboards to store ingredients, it's a lot harder to eat nutritious food. Is there a solution?