Mounting poverty among some of Dunedin's working families is forcing parents to keep their children out of school because they do not have enough food for them, a Family Works Presbyterian Support Otago worker says.
Family Works social work supervisor Debbie Gelling said pressure on the inner-city food bank was high as families struggled to cover the costs of heating homes following a cold summer across the region.
"The cold summer certainly hasn't helped people at all. People are coming to us because if you've got nothing to feed your kids for breakfast, the kids don't go to school. Kids are also not going because they don't have bus money. It's a constant issue." People spent "a lot of money" heating their homes and food budgets were often the first to be slashed, Gelling said. There had been a 20% increase in applications to the service for assistance with electricity costs and some people were "really struggling" to have both warm homes and food in their pantries. "People do stop working to go back on the benefit. It is never anyone's first choice, but in some cases they think it is easiest for them."
St Vincent de Paul Dunedin area president Lynlea Forbes said the foodbank was "run off its feet". Through the foodbank, the service was aware of people who were too scared to use their heaters because they could not afford to pay power bills, Forbes said. "Then they are hesitant to use their firewood because it is not properly winter yet."