Kathleen Wynne pledged that if elected, she would become the "social justice premier." But Ontarians surviving on low incomes are still going hungry, writes Desmond Cole.
"Social assistance is simply too low," says Mike Balkwill ... He points out that half of the people on welfare or disability supports rely on food banks. "People are being as generous as they can be," Balkwill says, "but the government is relying on the goodwill and generosity of volunteers to do what the government needs to do."
According to Qualicum Beach author and emeritus professor Graham Riches, food banks may just be the driving force behind food insecurity.
"Without people really realizing it we've moved from a system of income security or income transfers and social security to a system of food transfers and food aid which is what you would expect in the Third World, but not in Canada," Riches told The NEWS.
"The longer we have food charity and people supporting it and not asking critical questions about it we're not going to find ways to ensure people are not hungry."
Food bank use in Owen Sound has skyrocketed by close to 50 per cent since 2008, nearly doubling the increase seen nationally.
The size of the jump came as a shock to even Alice Wannan of the local Salvation Army, which operates the food bank.
"Those are staggering numbers when we reflect back on them," she said.
It's "a little scary" that almost one million Canadians used a food bank in March of this year, according to the manager of the North Bay Food Bank.
Food, she said, is "usually the last thing on a person's budget," especially when money is tight.
"People are more concerned about keeping a roof over their heads," she said, and after shelter is paid for, there is often little left for food.
"And various things always come up."
A national campaign in support of federal tax incentives for companies that donate edible surplus food to charities for the poor is gaining traction with municipalities in B.C. and across Canada.
But the plan is suffering from significant blowback from an unlikely quarter: anti-poverty groups who worry that incentivizing charity further entrenches a system of giving that robs the poor of the dignity of choosing and buying their own food.
The anti-poverty group Put Food in the Budget condemned the tax incentive plan as "morally repugnant" and misguided.
The struggle to put food on the table is still a reality for many people and families in northwestern Ontario.
The Northwestern Health Unit has just completed their 2015 survey of healthy food costs. Unfortunately, things have not improved. Here's Therese Niznowski, a public health dietitian.
"The survey for 2015 shows that the cost of feeding a family of four is $1,060.50 a month. So that's up 15.7 per cent since 2010," she said.
A common misconception is that employment will allow individuals or families to break the cycle of food insecurity. However, that is not the case. Over half of Ontario families struggling to put food on the table are part of the labour force.
The federal government should refuse to give a tax break to corporations that donate waste food to charity, says retired University of British Columbia social work professor Graham Riches.
The National Zero Waste Council -- an organization whose membership includes local governments, businesses and non-profits -- wants municipal governments to pass motions urging the Canadian government to create a tax incentive "for food producers, suppliers and retailers to donate unsold edible food."
Riches, however, said a tax incentive for food donations would fix neither the problem with food waste nor the problem with hunger.
"It's a solution to both problems that seems like a win-win to both sides, but it's deceptively simple," he said.
Surplus food is the result of overproduction, and helping companies financially when they produce too much is the wrong approach, he said.
"I can't understand how that gives them an incentive to deal with the food waste, particularly if they're receiving a benefit for it," he said.
Nor is increased food charity what people who are hungry need, Riches said. "The people who are poor, what they really need is money in their pockets so they can go into a store and purchase food like anybody else."
A panel discussion surrounding issues of poverty and food insecurity, 'From Hunger to Health' was recently held in Ottawa, as part of the second annual Spur festival. The discussion explored some of the root causes - and potential solutions - to the 75,000 people in Ottawa who go hungry each day.
Panel member Dr. Elaine Power, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies at Queen's University, said outright that Food banks aren't working. "Only 20 to 30 percent of food insecure households ever go to food banks." One of the problems with food banks, explained Power, is that they provide a comforting illusion of people not being hungry.
"Food banks show that we care," said Power, "but they have never gone away, though they were never intended to be permanent." The danger, said Power, is that food banks can give us a false sense of having dealt with the issue of hungry Canadians. "We forget about hunger because we think food banks are solving the problem."
The National Zero Waste Council has launched a campaign to reduce food waste by advocating federal tax credits for food companies that donate edible food waste to food charities. They are asking Canadian municipalities to support the campaign, suggesting that reducing food insecurity through corporate food donations to food banks will lead to better health and education outcomes.
Central to the National Zero Waste Council's argument is the claim that food banks reduce their clients' food insecurity.
It is encouraging that governments are recognizing the importance of food insecurity. However, recommending millions of dollars in tax credits to encourage multinational food corporations to dump their waste on food charities is indefensible.
Ten years ago, this city's powerful and the poor sat down and agreed to tackle poverty together. The needle has twitched some, but it hasn't really moved. But those committed to poverty reduction are in it for the long haul. And they insist the groundwork has been laid.
The Spectator has launched a seven-part series into how poverty has - and has not - changed in Hamilton.
The cost of food is rising, making it harder for the region's most vulnerable to access healthy food options.
According to a new report, released at the region's community services meeting last week, the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket in the region for a family of four increased more than five per cent last year. It outpaced inflation by five times. The total cost is now almost $195 a week.
In the last five years, the food basket, which is a surveillance tool used by the region to look at food security, increased 13.5 per cent.
A hunter-gatherer is defined as follows by dictionary.com:
"A member of a group of people who subsist by hunting, fishing, or foraging in the wild."
Single welfare recipients in the city of Toronto have become modern hunter-gatherers that subsist for up to three weeks per month foraging in the 'wilds' of Toronto's soup kitchens, food banks and clothes exchanges.
Imagine a Canada where everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs all the time, no matter what.
Sound like some socialist utopia? It's not.
It's called a basic income guarantee, or BIG, and some of its biggest supporters come from the right of the political spectrum. Why? Because it makes good economic sense.
It's a simple idea that has been discussed for a number of years and even piloted in Dauphin, Man. from 1974-79.
The Manitoba experiment revealed people fare much better when they have a secure income. From a decrease in hospitalization rates, less domestic violence, higher secondary school completion rates to a decline in teenage pregnancy, a basic income offers people stability that translates into improved social and health outcomes.
Despite more than a decade of yearly rate increases and small policy adjustments, people who rely on social assistance are hungrier today than in 1995, when the former Mike Harris Conservative government gutted the province's welfare system, according to a new report.
Officially, inflation since then has been 45 per cent. But when Toronto social policy expert John Stapleton took Tsubouchi's sample shopping list to the grocery store recently, he noticed the cost of the so-called "welfare diet" had spiked by 107 per cent, to $189.91.
Meantime, welfare rates - including November's 3.8-per-cent hike for singles on Ontario Works - have increased by just 31 per cent, to $681 a month.
If you're following the federal election campaign, you would think that poverty in Canada has been eliminated. Politicians, guided by their ever-cautious advisers and thinking only of short-term electoral advantage, rarely if ever utter the word, and creative anti-poverty strategies are largely absent from electoral platforms.
Yet poverty continues to be a major problem in Canada. It is deeply rooted, often racialized, and much more complex and destructive than is generally recognized. In a wide variety of ways it damages, and in some cases destroys, the lives of those who experience it.
Food insecurity is about income. It's about inadequate social assistance rates and increases in low-wage jobs, as well as part-time and contract employment, which make it hard for families to have adequate stable income. It's about a lack of affordable housing - which forces many families to choose between paying rent and buying food. It's about not having enough money to afford one's basic needs on a consistent basis.
It's time to move beyond the predictable results that come from emergency responses and look to more effective and dignified ways of addressing hunger and poverty in Canada and our community.
This is why a growing number of community organizations, academics, doctors and leaders across party lines are calling on governments for bold leadership and solutions. Solutions such as implementing a basic income guarantee, increasing investments in affordable housing and developing a national food strategy, as part of a broader anti-poverty plan.
This Living Wage report outlines how much a family in Sudbury would need to make, working full-time, in order to live with dignity and participate as active citizens in our community," said Nicole Beaulieu, executive director of SWEAC.
The report, developed with input from various community stakeholders and members, addresses the reality that Sudbury low-income workers are not earning enough to meet their family's basic needs. Sudbury's Living Wage amount is calculated at $16.18/hr.
Healthy foods are becoming increasingly difficult for low-income households to afford as food prices soar, according to a new regional report.
The cost of feeding a family of four a healthy diet in Waterloo Region this year is $195 a week, up just over five per cent from 2014 - a jump of more than $40 a month. In the past five years, the cost has risen 13.5 per cent.
"I think it really does illustrate the challenge for the families who want to feed their children well," said Sharlene Sedgwick Walsh, regional director of healthy living, planning and promotion.
Ontario's minimum wage creeps up today, from $11 an hour to $11.25. But the boost won't give much relief to the province's growing number of precarious and low-wage workers, according to a new report.
That's because current minimum wage levels would have to increase by a full 25 per cent in order to meet the standard set in 1976, when a minimum wage job lifted a worker above the poverty line.
In Toronto, minimum wage is still 61 per cent less than the hourly sum needed by a working family to scrape by, the research by left-leaning think tank the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows.
Canada's food-bank shelves have been running empty for 35 years. Yes, restock them, but don't expect hunger to go away. Even Food Banks Canada says it will not.
Sadly, compassionate appeals to food donors allow the community, business and our politicians to believe that food charity is the answer to hunger. Nothing is further from the truth.
Food-bank usage underestimates the scale of the national crisis: four million food-insecure Canadians, of whom 60 per cent are working poor. Only one in four of the food-insecure use food banks and many who do remain hungry.
Poverty is migrating outward in Canada's largest city, with an annual food-bank tally showing soaring need in Toronto's inner suburbs such as Scarborough and Etobicoke.
In total, 896,900 people visited a food bank across Toronto in the year to March, a 1.4-per-cent increase from a year earlier and a level still 12 per cent higher than during the recession, according to the annual count by the Daily Bread Food Bank.
The geography of hunger is shifting. Demand at food banks is subsiding in the city core, down 16 per cent since 2008, while in the inner suburbs of North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke, demand has risen 45 per cent in the past seven years.