Solo parents struggle for healthy food

Many families, including single-parent households of all incomes, are struggling to put healthy food on the table, a report has revealed.

The WA Health Department-funded Food Access and Cost Survey found the average cost of a healthy food basket rose almost 3 per cent, from $565 to $581 a fortnight, between 2010 and 2013.

The biggest increases were for the foods most recommended by nutritionists – fresh fruit, vegetables, breads and cereals – which went up about 6 per cent, while the cost of meat fell about 5 per cent and the cost of dairy foods was kept in check by supermarket price wars.

Curtin University and Health Department nutrition researcher Christina Pollard said the cost of healthy food depended on where people lived in the State and their income. Households were considered to be under “food stress” when 25 per cent of their income went on food.

The report found that couples with families and on welfare had to spend 44 per cent of their disposable income to buy all the food for a weekly meal plan, while low-income families had to spend 23 per cent of their budget, and families on average income only 14 per cent of their income.

All single-parent families – even those on average incomes – were at risk of food stress.

“We aim to ensure equitable access to affordable and nutritious food, that’s a public health priority, and this report demonstrates that is probably not happening,” Dr Pollard said.

“There is a big difference in average income, with many families sitting at or just below the poverty line.

“One of the findings we’re a bit stunned and worried about is for single-parent families, whether or not they’re on welfare, minimum wage or average income – they were all really close to the level for food stress.”

Dr Pollard said the survey was based on disposable incomes, which left little “wriggle room”.

WA Council of Social Service chief executive Irina Cattalini said it was concerning so many families were struggling with the cost of living and unable to afford healthy food.

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