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Households still in grip of high food costs

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Whangārei mother of two Kyla is struggling with the increased cost of food.

“We spend $300 to $400 a week and I feel like most weeks that is not even a trolley full. Every week it gets more expensive, we buy the same stuff pretty much every week and I notice a $1 to $2 increase on items every week,” she says.

They previously would have eaten meat every night but now try to have a couple of “meatless” nights each week.

Most of her income went on covering daycare costs, she said, and her husband worked full-time as a truck driver.

“It’s ridiculous the price of stuff. We shop at multiple different shops to get specials and it still doesn’t make a difference. My son also has food needs as he’s got ADHD so only eats certain foods, which we have to buy for him. Our daughter eats the complete opposite so we have to cater for both children and it feels impossible some weeks.

“We used to have takeout nights but we can’t justify spending over $50 a week on that.”

Auckland woman Julie has been feeling the pinch, too.

“I have a child who loves to bake and a lot of the essentials for that, like butter, have gone up, and that’s been a bit tricky to manage, as we want to encourage his interest but also are mindful of costs at times when money is tight.

“My partner lost their job and we had a period of lower than usual income and it was very stressful having to rely on the credit card for groceries until he got a new job. We were lucky too; my income is high and we had savings. I can’t imagine how hard it is for those living pay to pay.”

Food inflation ran hot in recent years, peaking at year-on-year increases of more than 12 percent in the middle of last year.

While prices have been softening so far this year, a monthly lift in April was the first increase in three months.

Household living costs data shows that between 2008 and 2021 the proportion of income being spent on food lifted from 18 percent to 21 percent.

Woman shopping at the supermarket, she is checking a long grocery receipt and leaning on a cart, budgeting and lifestyle concept

Photo: 123RF

ASB senior economist Kim Mundy said for the lowest-income New Zealanders, the proportion had risen from 19 percent to 22.2 percent between 2008 and 2023.

A researcher at Kore Hiaki Zero Hunger Collective, Jennie Sim, said her analysis showed food prices had lifted about $40 to $50 a week year on year last year for a two-adult, two -child household.

Solo parents’ costs were up about $30.

But she said that did not reveal the full extent of the impact on families, because many would not have been able to cover the increased costs.

“The reality is most households on low incomes don’t spend that money because food is discretionary, it’s the one thing they can squeeze… they don’t have that money left after their housing costs and their fixed living costs so they’re spending a fraction of what they should to get nutritional food. They’re trying to get assistance via community food banks.”

Fincap, the organisation that supports financial mentors, said the mentors in its network reported a drop in spending on groceries for their clients in 2023, to 19.6 percent of income because of the impact of other costs.

Mundy said that substitution effect was seen across the income brackets.

For the highest-income households, the proportion of income spent on food lifted from 15.9 percent in 2008 to 20.4 percent in 2023.

“Depending on where you are, if you started shopping at Farro now you’re moving to New World then Countdown, then Pak’nSave or maybe you’re now just purely shopping supermarket homebrand labels, or stuff that’s nearly expired.

“You can make those substitutions to a degree so there will be an element of that going on. People love that anecdote at the moment of going to the Pak’nSave carpark and you’ve never seen more Mercedes SUVs in your life. There’s that kind of thing the base numbers hide.”

She said it should be the case that food price increases continued to slow.

“We do think that food prices more generally are going to keep coming down. In part it’s driven by the fruit and vegetable Cyclone Gabrielle effect has largely come through, we’ve seen commodity prices globally come down which is helpful.”

But she said there were still shocks – as seen with the increases in olive oil and cocoa in the most recent statistics.

“Those shocks are lifting at the same time as the fresh food prices are falling so we see an offset there. But to the extent that demand is slowing because of tighter monetary policy we should see food price inflation fall just like we’re expecting inflation to fall elsewhere as well.”

VIA RNZ

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Police guarding scene after Massey house fire overnight

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Seven fire trucks were required to put out a blaze in an abandoned house in Massey overnight.

The fire on Don Buck Rd was first reported around 10pm, with multiple calls coming in from the public, said Fire and Emergency NZ northern shift manager Carren Larking.

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Mother of missing Marokopa children posts letter she says is from their fugitive dad

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The mother of the missing Marokopa children has published a letter which she says was written to her by the children’s fugitive father, Tom Phillips.

Police have been searching for Ember, eight, Maverick, nine, and Jayda, 10, since December 2021, when they were taken by Phillips to an unknown location – though police believe it was in Western Waikato within Marokopa or the surrounding areas.

Tom Phillips does not have legal custody of the children and there is a warrant out for his arrest.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family.

A picture posted by Cat on social media which she says is “the last birthday we got to celebrate with Jayda as a family”. Photo: Supplied

Posting on Facebook, their mother, known as Cat, said she was “well aware of the hateful rumours being spread around” and asked that people knew her before judging her.

She said she was sharing the letter to show that all was not as it seemed and to assure people that the children would be coming home to a loving and stable family.

Cat said she along with their two sisters, grandparents, aunties and cousins would be waiting for them.

The handwritten letter – which is not dated or signed and which RNZ has not been able to verify – describes the writer’s love for Cat, apologises to her and says he has a good heart and means well.

“I know if I ever give up trying to make things right I will regret it forever,” the letter says.

“Im sorry for everything I have ever said or done to hurt you,” it says.

The letter goes on to say that “although I make multiple f*** ups I have a good heart and I mean well”.

“We have an awesome family and thats worth fighting for,” is the last line of the letter.

Cat said she had not spoken out earlier because she did not believe it would bring her children home, but the fact that police were now offering a substantial reward had given her the courage to break her silence.

On Tuesday Cat broke her silence to make a video appeal provided by police for people’s help in returning the children to her.

Police have offered an $80,000 reward for information that would help discover the whereabouts of three children and lead to their safe return.

RNZ has contacted the police to verify whether they knew about the letter and whether they can confirm it is from Tom Phillips.

 

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Nicola Willis challenged over climate change, cancer drugs

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Finance Minister Nicola Willis has revealed new details about the timeline for cancer drug funding, and faced a barrage of questions over climate under questioning from MPs.

Willis appeared before the Finance and Expenditure Committee on Wednesday as part of Parliament’s first Scrutiny Week, a new initiative which allows for extended questioning of ministers over the government’s spending.

She quickly came under fire from Labour’s Finance and Climate spokespeople Barbara Edmonds and Megan Woods, and the Greens’ co-leader and Finance spokesperson Chlöe Swarbrick.

Cancer drugs

The election policy of funding 13 specific cancer drugs had been a glaring broken promise from this year’s Budget.

Willis told the committee MPs that as the Budget for this year was formulated, the cancer drugs policy “did require more work”, and she outlined how the government intended to pay for the drugs using money from next year’s Budget while still working to supply the promised drugs.

“It was not resolved in time for Budget 2024, so we agreed it would be a priority for funding set aside in Budget 2025,” she said. “So we are now working diligently on the policy delivery ahead of Budget 2025, with a view to making a decision on it shortly.”

However, she soon clarified that “we will be funding those drugs this year”, and the reason the policy was not funded in this year’s Budget was “we still had significant policy choices to make as we worked through the problem. And so it wasn’t appropriate to set aside a contingency until those fundamental policy decisions had been made”.

She later explained under questioning from Woods that people would be able to access at least some of the drugs before 2025.

“We will be making an announcement that will ensure that some of those medicines are funded this year,” she said.

Woods questioned if that would mean funding for the drugs this year, and Willis agreed.

Under questioning from Edmonds she said expressed confidence that the government would find the money, noting the government had already approved health funding from the 2025 and 2026 Budgets.

“As the member says, budgets are about priorities – and we are confident that, because this policy is a priority, we can and will fund it.”

She later told reporters at Parliament the word “some” was “just a use of a word, we will be funding the 13 medicines, we’ve made that commitment, we’ll be making announcements on it shortly”.

When pressed, however, she would not confirm whether that meant all 13 specific drugs listed in National’s policy would be funded and available before 2025.

“We’ll make a full announcement with the details of how drugs will be accessed and what dates in due course. I’m not making that announcement today.”

She also refused to shed light on how exactly the drugs would be funded.

Climate change

Swarbrick focused in on the Budget and its effect on climate change, asking how Williis could account for the $700m her Budget assumed would be coming from Emissions Trading Scheme revenue when today’s unit auction appeared likely to fail.

Swarbrick highlighted that at an expected $58 price point they would fall short of the $60 lower limit at which the units would be permitted to sell, and asked what would happen if the units failed to sell, but Willis said she was “not going to go into a hypothetical”.

“We have a requirement for approximately $2.9b in terms of your numbers stacking up here for revenue from the emissions trading scheme,” Swarbrick said, “but you’ve also have presented a Budget which cuts approximately $15m from market governance and integrity of the emissions trading scheme, so I’m wondering if you could help us reconcile those things”.

“It is very important … that I not in any way influence auction behaviour,” she said. “We want it to be a functional, effective, reliable market.”

When Swarbrick pushed her on why the funding had been cut from the efficacy and market governance, Willis said the government did not consider that funding necessary to improving the market’s operations, and rejected Swarbrick’s characterisation there was “next to no meaningful regulation of the ETS market, for example insider trading is technically legal”.

“We do not have concerns about the current way in which the ETS is regulated,” Willis said. She noted the government was yet to release the second Emissions Reduction Plan, due in December. That plan would set out how the government intends to achieve the emisssions reductions set out in the Emissions Budget, in line with international obligations.

“The government is doing its own work on the emissions reduction plan and we envisage the ETS will play a critical role,” Willis said. She also pointed to some initiatives the government had not scrapped in this year’s Budget including the rollout of electric vehicle chargers and the purchase of electric buses for local councils to buy.

Swarbrick earlier asked whether the decisions in this year’s Budget would increase or decrease emissions. Willis acknowledged climate impact policy assessments had showed they “won’t make a significant material difference to emission period 1. Over the second two emission periods, they will have an impact of potentially increasing emissions”.

However, she questioned whether those reports were “as good as they could be”, and pointed to the emissions impact report having included policies like more police on the roads, and upgrades to Defence Force equipment and infrastructure, as examples of where the reports were questionable.

“My point is it is not always appropriate to narrowly look at a policy based simply on its emission impact, because I don’t think there is a New Zealander who would say ‘I don’t want you hiring more police because it might add to emissions’.”

She later told reporters the assessment only looked at a subset of 40 initiatives.

Swarbrick also asked about the $3 billion to $24b the government is estimated to need to fork out in “offshore liability” – buying foreign climate credits to make up for the lack of domestic emissions reductions, and whether Willis had budgeted for those expected costs this year.

“No, I have not,” Willis said. “That has not been a priority in this Budget.”

VIA RNZ

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