As many of us go about our day around our kitchens and cooking recipes, thousands of people on welfare are confronted by a much harsher food reality.
For the many families and singles across Australia that are currently relying on government assistance, food isn’t a source of pleasure, but often a stressful and financial burden.
As a result, unemployed Australians are 23 per cent more likely to experience food insecurity than the general population.
“By the time you do that, you’re likely to only have a couple dollars a day left to spend on food if you have any dollars left at all.”
Foodbank Australia CEO, Brianna Casey, tells SBS that if someone is living below the poverty line, they’ll only have a few dollars spare per day to purchase food. Unless someone accepts food donations, they may end up going hungry.
“If we start with $44 a day and work backwards, you’ve got to account for energy, housing, petrol, medical, transportation, schooling and phone costs,” explains Casey. “By the time you do that, you’re likely to only have a couple of dollars a day left to spend on food if you have any dollars left at all.”
According to the new Foodbank Hunger Report (2021), one in six Australians is severely food insecure. That means they have multiple disruptions to their eating patterns and are regularly forced to reduce their food intake. Put simply, they don’t have enough to eat.
On top of this, more than two in five severely food insecure parents say their children may also go a whole day without eating at least once a week.
“People are not skipping meals because they're intermittently fasting or making a choice to eat less to lose weight,” Casey says. “They are skipping meals because they don’t have enough food to feed their whole family.
“Going without food is not a choice for Australians who are food insecure. This is what they are being forced to do to survive.”
"So when we talk about food insecurity, we're not just talking about people who are living on the street – we're talking about people living in your street.”
The truth of the matter is that food insecurity is a new situation for many people across the country. The Foodbank Hunger Report revealed that almost 40 per cent of Australians who were food insecure during the last year didn’t experience the same food-related hardship before the pandemic.
“What COVID-19 has shown is that for most Australians, they are only one or two paycheques away from being in a quite perilous position when it comes to their household budget. So when we talk about food insecurity, we're not just talking about people who are living on the street – we're talking about people living in your street.”
Could you survive eating only 'a few dollars' of food a day?
The new SBS series – Could You Survive on the Breadline? – investigates the concept of financial disadvantage in Australia. During the show, three famous Australians experience what life on a low income feels like as they live with welfare recipients and try to survive day-to-day.
One of the show’s participants is Masterchef and TV cook, Julie Goodwin. “When I start to think of all the bits and bobs that I might need, I don’t know how far this $40 is really going to go,” Goodwin says, as she comes to terms with the cost of living.
Carefully considering each dollar spent, Goodwin goes without the common luxuries associated with gourmet recipes and, instead, purchases a few small tins of tuna, rice, broccolini, corn and some other basics.
“It’s very simplistic to say well anyone can eat on [around] $40 dollars a day. You can but it’s about more than just eating. This is it’s about surviving and whether or not you’ve got an opportunity to thrive.”
What does food look like when you're struggling financially?
Casey insists that most people are doing the best they can with the situation they face. Day-to-day, food-insecure adults often learn to be resourceful in the absence of money and adopt creative hacks to make their pantry products stretch further.
“Food insecure adults may have powdered milk instead of normal milk, and reduce how much they use when adding the powder to water,” she says. “So milk, which is meant to be white, is only slightly white.
“We've also heard stories about people having ‘pink soup’, which is the leftover water you might have had after you have cooked frankfurts.”
“We often talk about food relief being a hand up, not a hand out. In this situation, that's truly the case.”
However, quality meats or fruits and vegetables are not usually a priority for people on low incomes as they are too costly. According to a study from 2009 published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, healthy food habits are economically challenging for welfare-dependent families. The report showed that families needed to spend at least 33 per cent of their weekly income to eat a ‘healthy diet’ according to public health recommendations if they bought generic brands.
Highly processed, cheap food may be purchased instead of healthy foods, leading to negative physical health outcomes like obesity.
“Being forced to survive on a couple of dollars a day when it comes to food and groceries is unsustainable," Casey says.
“But the best thing that people can do when they are facing tough times is to acknowledge that they are in a place of hardship and ask for support from a food relief charity.
“We often talk about food relief being a hand up, not a handout. In this situation, that's truly the case.”
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The new three-part documentary series Could You Survive on the Breadline? uncovers what life is like for the millions of people living on welfare. Three prominent Australians - author and TV personality Julie Goodwin, NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong, and journalist Caleb Bond, embark on separate journeys into three different Australian communities to gain insights into the poverty and disadvantage experienced by so many in Australia. For all three, the experience will be a confronting and emotional experience.
Could You Survive on the Breadline? airs Wednesdays from 17 November at 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand. The three-part series continues weekly.
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