TORONTO - With the cost of living on the rise, more Canadians are turning to food banks for support. According to a new report, HungerCount 2021 from Food Banks Canada, in March of 2021, more than 1.3 million Canadians visited food banks. Nationally, the demand for food banks increased by 20% compared to March 2019, the steepest rise since the 2008 economic recession.
With the Bank of Canada warning of prolonged inflation, forecasting an average of 4.75% for the rest of the year, Canadians will continue to pay more from gas to groceries. The combination of rapid food inflation, low wages, the end to Canada’s pandemic emergency supports and the unrelenting housing market driving up the cost of rent, the pressure builds for Canadians trying to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.
The Report is the latest comprehensive study to analyze data from Canada’s more than 4,750 food banks and community organizations. Its findings revealed that about one-in-four food banks - most of which were located in larger urban centres - experienced an increase of 50% in demand over the two-year period. The Report suggested the surge in usage was likely attributable to job loss.
Alarmingly, one-third of clients are children, despite the fact they represent only nineteen percent of the general population. Another troubling find, 27% of people who access food banks are on fixed incomes, such as pensions or disability benefits. Furthermore, individuals who receive provincial social assistance as their main source of income represent 50% of households that access food banks.
While organizations work tirelessly to fill the hunger gaps across the nation, food banks alone are not the long-term solution to relieving and preventing hunger in Canada. “Early in the pandemic, government housing and income supports helped flatten demand at Canada’s food banks, but in recent months, visits are beginning to surge with nearly one-in-seven food banks experiencing doubling of demand”, said David Armour, Interim CEO of Food Banks Canada.
For instance, three provinces experiencing the largest increase in need compared to 2019 include Quebec, at 38%, Alberta, at nearly 30% and Ontario, at 23%.
Acknowledging it requires a collaborative effort to help end hunger and food insecurity, the Report highlights several recommendations to help alleviate the hunger issue. For one, it recommends new supports for renters living with low incomes which includes the implementation of a national rent support program based on an expanded version of the Canada Housing Benefit.
The second recommendation is to modernize and expand supports for low-wage earners and the unemployed, primarily through upgrades to the employment insurance program. Another suggestion would be for government to introduce incentives to encourage businesses to pay living wages to all employees.
Another measure includes the consideration of policies that help Canada move towards a minimum income floor, at or above the official poverty line. According to a February 2021 Statistics Canada report that is based on 2019 income tax returns, about 3.7 million Canadians were living below the poverty line. That represents nearly 10% of the population. Christopher Sarlo, Professor of Economics (Nippising University), suggests that Canadian families of four in most urban centres would have to have total incomes in excess of $60,000 to escape poverty (about $15,000 a person for a family of four).
Other recommendations include increased supports for low-income single adults and enhanced measures to reduce food insecurity in northern communities.
As food prices continue to increase, families could expect to pay nearly $700 more for groceries by the end of this year, adding to the pressures of food insecurity.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter