SSome nights, Jessemy Evans just has to eat the leftovers on her toddler’s plate. She’s stopped buying meat, insulated her windows with plastic to save on heating bills, and stopped activities that require gas mileage — but while she lives frugally, each day gets tougher as New Zealand’s high cost of living bites.
“Everything’s going up, but revenue isn’t going up the same way — there’s a deficit,” Evans said.
The relentless fight over room and board costs takes a toll on Evan’s mental health. “You’re trying to show up for your baby and play and be happy, but there’s always a nagging ‘God, what if something breaks?’ in the back of your mind.”
The sacrifices it makes — particularly in nutrition — are also creating “a downward spiral” to further healthcare costs, she adds. “It concerns me all day, every day: How can we survive like this?”
households under pressure
Evans is one of a growing number of New Zealanders who have to make tough decisions to make ends meet. Inflation is at its highest level in 30 years, with annual food inflation at 6.8% and fruit and vegetables at 10%. Ipsos polls in June showed that rising costs of living have far replaced Covid-19 as the most pressing issue on New Zealanders’ minds.
As a result, people are trying to stretch grocery budgets further, with some making extraordinary efforts – New Zealand shoppers have ordered groceries from Australia to save money, others have turned to foraging and more recently some have reportedly been eating garden snails and using a water spray bottle instead of toilet paper to save costs.
But for others, tightening their budgets is not an option – they simply don’t have the money, and as a result, families are starving.
A research article published this week in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand chronicled the experiences of six single parents suffering from food insecurity. The women described the daily struggle to support themselves and their children, despite sacrifices or budgeting.
“Sometimes on a bad week I don’t eat at all just so there’s enough for the kids,” said one woman whose identity has been kept secret.
Each woman reported the stress of not being able to provide her children with nutritious food, regularly missing meals and feeling significant hunger so her children could eat, and sometimes depending on food banks or donations from extended families.
“Without these food packages, the children would not have eaten for about a week,” said one participant.
Organizations helping people in need are facing an unprecedented demand for food packages. The Christchurch City Mission reported a 30% increase last year, while the Auckland City Mission says demand for parcels has tripled in the past three years.
The Government Health Survey 2020-21 found that around one in seven (14.9%) children lived in households where food ran out, a similar number often eat less because of a lack of money or food, while 12.2% of children lived in households that use food banks. Children living in the most economically vulnerable areas were at least six times more likely to be food insecure.
The women the researchers spoke to felt that the public was unaware of how dire the situation had become for some families, and they themselves wondered how “their struggle could have been so prolonged, especially given New Zealand’s relative wealth.” “, says the study.
The paper cited income inadequacy as the underlying root cause of a household’s food insecurity, which caused “significant and sustained hardship” and required “coordinated and targeted systemic responses.”
“Even if… instead of $60… I was like $100 a week… we wouldn’t have any problems,” one noted. Another suggested taxing unhealthy foods more heavily and exempting staple foods from the tax.
Evans cited the cost of childcare as a key barrier to returning to work. She also hoped communities could start thinking more collectively — by having forestry companies allow locals to collect scrap wood for their fires, or having neighbors help each other build food gardens.
More broadly, the study highlighted food insecurity as a major ongoing public health problem in New Zealand.
Retiree Patricia Kahi, who lives north of Auckland with her recently retired husband, is another New Zealander feeling the strain.
She has developed strict shopping rules and saving techniques to ensure they can eat and have something in the register for emergencies. The couple raised nine children, but Kahi can’t imagine being able to survive the same situation these days. “It’s tough out there — I see some of my kids struggling — grocery costs are through the roof, rents are through the roof and so is gas,” she said.
To save money, Kahi makes all her own cleaning products, buys and cooks in bulk, and limits visits to the nearest town to once every two weeks to save on gas.
“You have to be frugal…you have to save…because it’s not getting any better.”