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Many Canadians are being pushed to their financial brink, unable to afford the basic necessities. Wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, and more people are turning to homeless shelters, social services, and food banks in Canada.
Food Insecurity in Ontario
Food insecurity “refers to the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints.” This is the definition provided by PROOF, a research program that studies policy approaches to reduce food insecurity in Canada.
Food insecurity can include worrying about running out of food because there’s not enough room in the budget. Severe food insecurity can include missing meals or reducing food intake.
In 2021, 15.9% of households across ten provinces had experienced food insecurity over the previous 12 months. This equates to 5.8 million Canadians, including 1.4 million children. Those experiencing food insecurity often turn to food banks in Canada for help.
“Between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022, over 587,000 people accessed a food bank in Ontario, visiting more than 4.3 million times.” These statistics come from the 2022 Hunger Report, a document produced by Feed Ontario – a network of over 1,200 food banks and hunger relief organizations.
Between January and September of 2022, there was a 24% increase in the number of people accessing food banks in Ontario compared to the year before. One in three were first-time visitors. While the COVID-19 pandemic helped to fuel a surge in food bank use, there was no return to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, 2022 marks the sixth consecutive year that food banks have seen an increase in use, and there is no end in sight.
Why do More Canadians Require Food Banks?
According to the 2022 Who’s Hungry Report, a separate document released by the Daily Break and North York Harvest Food Banks in Ontario, there are several factors contributing to the increased usage of food banks in Canada, including:
Low income, job loss, and unemployment were reported as common reasons for insufficient income. Over the last year, the average median annual income for people turning to the food bank dropped from $13,272 to $12,732.
Many food bank clients’ primary source of income is social assistance through organizations like Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). With social assistance rates below Toronto’s poverty line, many are experiencing deep levels of poverty. Ninety-six percent of survey respondents reported living below the poverty line.
Canadians are also feeling the impact of high inflation as the daily cost of living continues to rise. According to Canada’s Food Price Report, overall food prices were expected to increase by 5% to 7% in 2022. As of September, this prediction was exceeded with food inflation rising to 10.3%. With this kind of increase in food costs, it’s no wonder people are finding it difficult to feed themselves and their families.
Compared to last year, the Who’s Hungry Report says that many low-income individuals only have $8.01 left in their budget per day after paying for rent and utilities. This is down from a year ago when the median was $9.17. How is someone supposed to take care of all of their necessities and eat a healthy meal for $8 a day?
Unfortunately, the forecast for food prices isn’t getting any better. The Food Price report predicts an increase of another 5% to 7% in 2023.
High housing costs
Survey results report that high housing costs absorb most of the food bank clientele’s household income with 69% paying more than half or more of their income to housing. Eighteen percent of respondents were spending all or more of their income on housing costs. With little or no money left in their budgets, the food bank was acting as an essential resource.
Lack of access and support
Those using the food bank also face challenges around access. For instance, 22% of people surveyed said they did not have the internet, making it difficult to look for work or apply for jobs. Many food bank users didn’t have a car to get around and had to use public transit or walk to get around outside of their neighbourhood. Additionally, 39% of respondents reported that they lack a support network. It can feel especially scary to be hungry when you don’t have anyone to turn to.
Who is Using the Food Bank?
The face of food insecurity is changing with notable differences between new and existing clientele. On average, new clients are younger and more likely to go hungry, with 46% reporting they were hungry at least one day a month compared to 39% of existing clients.
While it would seem that employment should act as a protective measure against food insecurity, this is not the case. New clients were more likely to be employed, with 48% reporting someone in their household working part or full-time. Even with employment, it’s difficult for Canadians to keep up with high inflation and rising food prices.
Additionally, new food bank clients were more likely to identify as newcomers to the country who are often lacking in social support and holding low-paying jobs. While 75% of the existing clientele were Canadian citizens, just over half (52%) of new clients had Canadian citizenship.
Those visiting the food bank typically use it as a last resort. Many food bank clients reportedly turned to their credit cards or even took out payday loans to try to make ends meet. Unfortunately, these payment strategies can lead to a cycle of crippling debt that makes it nearly impossible to get out of poverty.
Is There a Solution to End Food Insecurity?
Like most complex societal problems, there is no one solution to end food insecurity. But, both the Hunger Report and the Who’s Hungry Report provide a list of recommendations to improve income security so Canadians can afford to eat. Some of these recommendations include:
- Progressively increasing minimum wage
- Investing in social housing
- Increasing the number of sick days
- Equal pay for equal work
- Increasing financial support provided through Ontario’s social assistance programs
- Extending a guaranteed income to Canadians through a basic income
- Lowering income taxes for the lowest-income householdsIndividuals can also help to support Canadian food banks. Unfortunately, there has been a decrease in the number of food donations. An increase in demand and a decrease in supply makes for a difficult situation. On a personal level, people can support the food bank by participating in food drives, giving financial donations, or volunteering at a local food bank.
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If you are one of the hard working Canadians dealing with significant household debt and struggling to feed your family, know you are not alone. We are here to help. You can speak to us about your personal finances, and we can work together to find a debt management solution.
As Licensed Insolvency Trustees, we are the only federally regulated professionals able to administer insolvency proceedings, including Consumer Proposals and Bankruptcies. Call us today at 519-310-5646 for a free, no-obligation consultation, or reach out online.