Serious Problem of Food Insecurity in Canada
Disturbing reports say food bank usage across Canada reached an all-time high of nearly 1.5 million visits last March. Food Banks Canada released its annual report on October 20 painting a picture of unprecedented food insecurity in the 21st century. The 1.5 million visits to food banks in March of this year was 15 per cent higher than the number of visits in the same month last year and 35 per cent higher than visits in March 2019.
More than 4,750 food banks and community organizations contributed to the details in the report. Comments in the report suggest the skyrocketing cost of food and housing, as well as general price inflation, stagnant income for workers, and low social assistance rates are all contributing to the rise in food bank usage.
Kirstin Beardsley, the CEO of Food Banks Canada, called the reported numbers of usage “devastating.”
“What we are seeing is the combination of long-term effects to a broken social safety net combined with the effects of inflation and high costs driving more people to use food banks than ever before in Canadian history,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Behind each one of these numbers is a person who is struggling too much to get by.”
Beardsley said fixed-income groups like seniors and employed but low-income people such as students have been hit harder because their paycheques can’t keep up with inflation. “We have got people like seniors, who have been able to afford to live, suddenly having to turn to the food bank for the first time in their lives because it doesn’t all add up,” Beardsley said. “(Some people) are on a very limited income, and so when the costs go up, the way we have seen, you just can’t stretch the dollar.”
The Food Bank reported that around 500,000 food bank visitors in March or about one-third were children, who make up around 20 per cent of the country’s total population. Hunger among children is an issue that can have a lasting impact, Beardsley said.
“This is the future of our country; this is who is going to be our future leaders, scientists, artists,” she said. “When you’re going to school hungry, you’re not learning, you’re not focussing, you’re not setting yourself up to thrive.”
Beardsley called the report a “wake-up call” that should trigger moves to tackle food insecurity and the issues that contribute to it. Food Banks Canada said the problem is especially dire in Northern Canada suggesting a need for the development of community-based approaches in those areas to address the issue.
The report demands increased investments in social programs and pro-social reforms such as providing more affordable and rent-assisted housing and immediate changes to employment insurance, which has become virtually useless in most cases.
(With files from The Canadian Press)