Foodbank South Australia has been approached by banks wanting to refer their clients to the charity, in the hope it will prevent people from defaulting on mortgage payments.
It comes as a new report has shown mental distress is increasing in older Australians, with nearly half of all homeowners aged 55 to 64 still paying off a mortgage — up from just 14 per cent 30 years ago.
Foodbank South Australia is now working on a new agreement which would enable clients to access its food services directly, with a voucher funded by the major bank.
However, Foodbank South Australia chief executive Greg Pattinson told ABC Radio Adelaide it was still exploring how the program would work.
“That’s what we are exploring with some of the banks at the moment … it hasn’t started yet because we are still working through the process.
“We’ve never been approached by financial institutions in the past and the banks, to their credit, are doing the right thing in trying to find a way of keeping people in their houses.”
He said traditionally, Foodbank worked through charities and the welfare sector but it had seen an increase in the number of people who require food assistance that are working.
“Increasingly we are being approached now by organisations other than traditional charities, so schools for example, where the schools have identified the children of parents who are doing it tough,” he said.
“Each year we’ve seen an increase in South Australia of anywhere up to 20 per cent in the number of people seeking food assistance.”
‘Cost of living’ is causing a shift
Mr Pattinson said the stereotype of a person or family that required food assistance was diminishing.
He said more people must be suffering from mortgage stress because more of those needing help were from working families.
“We certainly do provide services to the unemployed and to people who are homeless,” he said.
“But we are seeing an increase in the numbers of working families and working Australians who are needing to seek food assistance because of cost of living increases.
“We see an increase in demand, for example every three months, when people get their electricity bills.
“It’s a case of those weeks where people are saying, ‘we’ll make sure the kids are fed, the roof is over our head but mum and dad don’t eat this week’.”
Trying to help clients ‘balance their budget’
Mr Pattinson said the fact it had been approached by the banks had shown a significant shift and Foodbank was working on a project to support those in need.
“We’re getting inquiries from schools, pastoral care workers, from principals at various schools around the state,” he said.
“And increasingly, we are now seeing inquiries from banks and financial institutions who are looking to try and find a way of helping their clients balance their budget.”
He said the program was still in its early stages, but he hoped Foodbank would have a concrete program in place within the next two to three months.
“It may even be as simple as the banks referring their clients to the Foodbank food hubs,” he said.
“But there would obviously be conditions to that which would have to be assessed by the bank to make sure those people … are genuinely in need of those services.
“We don’t want to shift the food away from people who are genuinely needing it.”