Shiv* tells her children she had a big lunch and is too full for dinner; Roberta* says that she ate while she was cooking dinner; Issy* tells her children she’s going to have her dinner when they go to bed. There’s many excuses single mothers give their kids for why they’re skipping meals, and we’ve heard them all.
Our Support Line workers say that single mothers who can no longer afford to feed themselves have become experts in protecting their children from the unfathomable reality that regular meals are a thing of the past. That in a wealthy country like Australia women are going hungry is horrendous enough, but now single mothers are telling us something even more chilling: their children are lying to them about not eating.
One mother told us that her son started bringing home his lunch, telling her that another child was bringing in lunches for everyone so he didn’t need to bring in lunch anymore. When his mother contacted the school to find out what was going on, she was told no such child existed.
Other children are deliberately skipping breakfast, telling their mothers they’re simply not hungry, or deliberately leaving their dinners half eaten. One single mother told us that when she pressured her child into explaining his sudden loss of appetite, she confessed that she was hoping her mother would eat it.
This month, Adam Loftus, Foodbank’s NSW/ACT programs manager told ABC’s 7.30 Report that there has been a surge in demand for food for kids skipping breakfast.
“We’re sitting at about 1.5 million servings of breakfasts over the last 12 months to schools,” he said. “That’s going up all the time. It’s gone up 50 per cent on last year, and it just keeps increasing.”
Blame inflation, of course, but a 2022 survey by Foodbank found food insecurity across Australia had increased even before recent inflation hikes.
According to Foodbank, 1.3 million children lived in a household experiencing severe food insecurity in the 12 months prior to the survey and that single-parent households were especially vulnerable.
In an interview for the 7.30 Report, Sharon Bessell, a professor at the Australian National University researching poverty in families, said that children are increasingly hiding their need.
“They know that their mum’s hungry too,” she said. “And so here we have children as young as seven, eight, nine, not telling anyone that they’re hungry because they don’t want to see their mum skipping meals for them.”
Forty-two per cent of Foodbank’s survey participants cited “reduced/low income or government benefits” as the main reason behind their family’s food insecurity.
If you believe that no child in Australia should be starving, please join our campaign to tell the Prime Minister that raising the cut-off age for Parenting Payment Single needs to happen now. It’s quick and easy – and with the Federal Budget being passed down in May, time is running out. Please help us turn things around for all the single mothers and their children who tonight will be covering up why they’re skipping dinner.
*Names have been changed.