Some Salvation Army clients unable to afford meals: poll

MORE than a quarter of respondents to a Salvation Army poll say they cannot afford a proper meal even once a day, while two-thirds have been forced to cut back on necessities.

The Salvation Army released the sobering findings of its National Economic and Social Impact Survey on Wednesday ahead of this weekend's Red Shield Appeal.

It makes for grim reading.

More than 2700 Salvation Army clients - 40% of whom lived outside metropolitan areas - across 237 centres were interviewed for the poll, with 90% reporting to receive some form of welfare.

The poll found that not only were 28% unable to afford at least one substantial meal each day, 51% had gone without food in order to feed their children.

More than half (54%) said they felt worse off than a year ago, and a staggering 92% had little or no money stashed away for an emergency.

Heating and cooling in just one room was beyond the means of 27% of respondents, while 58% said they were unable to pay utility bills on time.

Disturbingly, 7% of single parents who presented to a Salvation Army centre were homeless, with a further 7% reporting to live with family and friends.

Salvation Army spokesman Bruce Redman said the Federal Government's decision to force about 84,000 single parents onto the lower Newstart payment was taking a toll.

The survey showed there had been a 12% rise in the number of people coming to The Salvation Army for help who were now receiving Newstart, 40% of whom were single parents with children older than seven.

"People are doing it really tough on Newstart," Dr Redman said.

"This, in turn, is impacting on children's general wellbeing."

The survey found almost 40% of children were missing out on school activities, annual dental checkups and new or up-to-date school books and uniforms.

Last year's decision by the Federal Government to change the eligibility criteria for single parenting payments attracted widespread criticism, including from some Labor backbenchers.

Under the change, a single parent loses the more generous payment when their youngest child turns eight.

A single parent on Newstart receives $537 per fortnight, while a person with no dependents receives $497.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has so far resisted calls to lift the rate of Newstart by at least $50 per week.

The Greens and Australian Council of Social Service were among those who seized on the findings of the Salvation Army poll to renew calls for an increase.

"We know that the $35-a-day Newstart payment is now grossly inadequate and has been allowed to fall further behind community living standards because it's not properly indexed and hasn't been increased in real terms for nearly 20 years," CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

"The government was warned the move would be extremely damaging. We've been hearing from so many single parents about the impacts since they came into effect in January, and now we have solid data to illustrate this."

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