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Post Pandemic – Crisis or Correction?

A couple of months ago, Janice and I attended a meeting of businesspeople in Christchurch and were addressed by members of NZ Business Inc on how well the NZ economy was performing post 2020. Far better than any prognosis only 12 months before.

This was awesome positive news; the post-pandemic bounce back to normal life was encouraging, or was it?

COVID-19 has changed most of our lives in a profound way. The size and complexity of the real-life challenge is reflected in the numbers. Last year Foodbank Canterbury (FBC) grew 44% in terms of volume food resources processed and redistributed to those in need and at risk in our region. As with the rest of our country we expected the bounce back and yet although there was a slight decrease around the August/September period, once the wage subsidies ended, we were back to mid pandemic levels. The sad element to this is that we have not only remained at those levels but in June this year FBC recorded it’s highest ever processed volume soaring over 100 tonnes for the month – and by July 12th we are already at 498,000 kgs so far! This volume is resourcing over 9,000 meals per day … … 9,000 meals per day!

Where does this leave us here in Aotearoa?

Our unaffordable housing seems to be a major part of the price that we as a nation have paid. Real Estate companies keep pounding the airwaves with selling jargon on current inflated pricing as an opportunity for sellers thereby pushing FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out to buyers. Yet as economists forecast, a single percentage point increase in home loan rates – and we are just beginning to see these – would suck around $3 billion a year out of households many of whom will not be in a position to sustain a mortgage on an often over-inflated house price.

For many others, including us, rent increases on the back of rising property values are a real killer.

The crisis has created a social welfare storm! ANZ Chief Economist Sharon Zollner recently reminded us that despite the way we may look to the rest of the world and to ourselves, ‘NZ is suffering a large negative income shock and a hangover awaits, somewhere down the track.’ If our daily experience at FBC is anything to go by, we are seeing the start that journey.

And then there’s the pandemic itself. Our lag in vaccination roll-out despite the government saying it’s ‘on target’ – Canterbury has now been stretched into September and NZ is reportedly second last in OECD countries in vaccination numbers, coupled with case numbers resurging in Australia and just beginning to rise in previously little-impacted parts other parts of our immediate world, is realistically frightening.

How do we determine the end to a constantly twisting plot?

If someone can answer this, please let me know!

A medical doctor recently countered my post-COVID comment with ‘what post-COVID?’

And the need continues to rise. At FBC we conservatively estimate that we would need to increase our throughput by around 27% to satisfy what we know as current demand.

So how do we effectively challenge the pandemic and prepare for what lies ahead? It may require a more holistic approach. One that allows greater visibility and understanding of the challenges by all sectors, not just those directly in the social welfare line of fire. Corporate New Zealand will need to stand up and contribute and collaborate. No longer can requests for financial aid from well-heeled corporates be met with ‘apply to our Staff foundation – they’ll give you $5000.’ $5000 doesn’t even meet FBC’s petrol bill for 2 months!

Local and central government need to understand the issue as well. This is no different to that of addressing the mental needs of our whanau. Food affects all elements of the social welfare circle.

We can no longer request those in need to fill out a lengthy form so that we can determine if they have a need or tell them they need to attend budget classes or to come back another day as we are just too busy! These are actual cases – and happening in the traditional relief sector every day!

If we are to confront the challenge of these times and the those of the potential solutions, there is a necessary interdependence and collaboration required … … from central government, through local government to corporate New Zealand. We can no longer leave the solution to organisations such as FBC – they are literally burning out. We can no longer do it alone.

© Foodbank Canterbury John Milligan July 2021

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