Do we really have food insecurity in Australia?

People are often surprised to learn that in 2018, many Australians are going without food or unable to access healthy food.

Emergency Food Relief services are reporting unprecedented demand for assistance, from a broader range of people than ever before.

What is Food Security


Some inconvenient facts 

  • From 2014 to 2017, the number of people assisted by Food Bank grew from 500,000 to 625,000 people each month.
  • Anglicare (Sydney/Illawarra) saw a 73% increase in emergency relief received by families from 2007-2014.

Over-stretched household budgets mean that families have to weigh competing demands to pay bills, rent and medical expenses or to buy adequate food, forcing many to families to choose cheaper and less healthy foods, or to go without meals.

Going without food or eating poor food can have a negative and lasting impact on family relations, on school attendance, on energy levels and concentration, on ability to participate in workplace or community – in short, wide-reaching and devastating consequences which can be largely hidden from view.


Who’s at risk?

Those on low incomes: A 2004 study in 3 low income suburbs in SW Sydney found 21% food insecurity, with 30% of households with children and over 45% single parent families being food insecure.

Newly arrived refugees: A 2002 Perth study found over 70% food insecurity among Perth refugees; a SW Sydney study found 85% of Dinka speakers were food insecure.

People in supported accommodation or homeless: A 2010 study of young people in Sydney found food insecurity was widespread and often severe (up to 40%).

Aboriginal communities:Aboriginal people are at higher risk of food insecurity than non-indigenous Australians and are twice as likely to report no usual daily intake of fruit and vegetables. In 2004-2005 24% of Aboriginal Australians aged 15 years and over reported they ran out of food in the last 12 months, compared to 5% of non-Aboriginal.


What can we do?

Australia’s Right to Food Coalition advocates that access to nutritious food be viewed as an essential human right, and that decision-makers need to prioritise action to ensure that those who most need access to healthy food, are able to get it.

Food insecurity is deeply entrenched in poverty and therefore has complex causes. Effective solutions must be multi-pronged and will take time and a coordinated approach. So how do we start this multi-pronged approach and begin to really tackle this problem?

  1. Firstly, we need to ensure welfare benefits and wages are at a level sufficient to purchase healthy foods and ensure an adequate standard of living.
  2. Subsidies for fresh and nutritious foods in rural and remote areas, where food prices are much higher, are necessary.
  3. We need regular monitoring of food insecurity – current data is underestimating the magnitude of this problem and its economic burden on our Government.

There are several well established programs which are effectively rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste and supporting hundreds of community based food access programs. They are providing an essential service for thousands of families however, they are not intended (nor are they able) to address the root cause of food insecurity. Instead, this response is simply putting a band aid onto the sore.

Australia is lagging behind more progressive countries on this issue. Others are seeing food insecurity as a symptom of food and social system failure and are discussing all aspects of food, food systems, food production and food access and cost of living across the whole community.  We believe it’s time for Australia to step up to the mark and honour the human right to adequate food for all Australians.


Foodbank NSW. End Hunger report 2017

Anglicare 6th Annual State of Sydney report 2014

Nolan et al. Food insecurity in three socially disadvantaged localities in Sydney, Australia.Health Promotion Journal of Australia 2006;17: 247-54

Faye Southcombe, NSW Refugee Health Service Feeding the family in an unfamiliar environment: Food insecurity among recently resettled refugees.2008

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2008

Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors In. Good Food For New Arrivals (2004)

Lynn McIntyre. Food Security: more than a determinant of health. Policy Options. 2003