Senate Community Affairs Committee - Inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia

Caring Cuisine is honoured to have been invited to provide testimony in the Senate Community Affairs Committee Inquiry into the extent and nature of poverty in Australia. 

This enquiry provides a unique opportunity for organisations on the front line, that interact with persons experiencing poverty every day to provide their expertise to guide the response to poverty in Australia.

Caring Cuisine Chief Executive Officer, Alexi Paasonen, attended the hearing in Brisbane today to provide his testimony.

“Regarding why we’re here today, I find the comments by Ms King of the Victorian Council of Social Services particularly powerful. Poverty is a choice. But it is not a choice made by those who are affected, but rather by our Governments, our society, and the systems and structures we create. We can and must do better.”

Mr Paasonen also focused on the need for the system to allow sufficient flexibility to respond to changes in demand for services:

“We also need to ensure that the funding for organisations like ours is sufficient, appropriately targeted, and flexible enough to adjust for changes in demand. As I said earlier, in the past year the number of people accessing our service has more than doubled. We’re on track to deliver over 120 000 meals, but we’re only funded to deliver 89 244. These are meals to persons assessed by the Government’s own assessors as needing our support. We will receive no additional funding for the extra 30 000 meals, and have previously been advised by the Department of Health that if we are unwilling to cover the additional costs, totalling about $225 000, we should cap the number of clients and start a wait list. Obviously, a waitlist for something as essential as food would be unacceptable to most people.”

“Our organisation has made the decision to support those who couldn’t otherwise afford our services. Our volunteers founded a Community Benefit Fund, where rather than being reimbursed for their travel during deliveries they put this money to supporting people. But this shouldn’t be necessary. I would argue that if the government has assessed these people as needing our support, it shouldn’t be up to us and our volunteers to fund it. The over 150 volunteers who work with our organisation already subsidise the Government’s budget by providing their labour for free. We are the Government’s vehicle in this process – the obligation should fall to them to fund the support – that’s what our taxes are for.”

Caring Cuisine works alongside Picabeen Community Association, who also provided testimony during the session. Picabeen Community Associations receives support through the Caring Cuisine Nourished Neighbours program and has been providing invaluable services to the community for more than 30 years. In her statement, Ms Warren, Centre Manager, stated:

“In recent times – I’ve provided the figures in the statement – for the last few months those figures were 82 in December then in November, just gone, over 120 people have come into the centre looking for assistance. I want to highlight that these are basic meals, basic pantry items and a lot of tine food. We also have access to some frozen meals, which we receive from Meals on Wheels North West [Caring Cuisine] and some other sources and our local churches as well.

Caring Cuisines’ Nourished Neighbours program has provided more than $30 000 worth of free meals to community organisations free of charge over the last 12 months, as well as providing 650 meals directly to those impacted by the 2022 Brisbane floods.