Six years ago this spring, I was challenged by low-income people in my community to live for one week on a “food bank diet” to better understand the stress experienced by so many on social assistance who have to make the choice between food and rent each month. The affect on me and my family was profound.
But while that publicity stunt helped raise awareness about hunger in our city, little has improved since. In fact, our local food banks are busier than ever.
Food banks, soup kitchens, and the latest PEI Food Share are permanent fixtures in our present-day society.
While there will always be a need and people to step up to fill it, is it getting to be all too much?
“Overwhelming” was the word used to describe the number of groups and individuals who have a hand in making sure no one on PEI goes hungry.
To look at an informal map of the aid, which Anne Mazer of the Food Security Network put together last week, is overwhelming.
It illustrates 58 different projects tip to tip on PEI, all falling in the volunteer and/or non-profit category.
In the mid- to late 1970s, every single person in one rural Manitoba city received $1,255 a year — roughly $7,500 in today's dollars.
The amount increased depending on the number of people living in each household, maxing out at $3,969, or nearly $23,500 in 2016 currency, for a family of five or more.
The people in the Dauphin, Man., experiment didn't have to work to receive this stipend. If they did, their benefit dropped 50 cents for every dollar they received.
Most advocates of basic income only answer the arguments of the right – mainly concerning the willingness to work – and never imagine there can be valid arguments for the left to resist their proposals.
In that sense we have to be grateful to Philippe van Parijs that he addresses social democracy specifically in his defence of basic income. However, his answers are not very satisfactory.
It's time to fix social assistance.
Ontario's staggeringly low social assistance rates leave more than 900,000 people in this province underhoused, hungry and sick. That's because provincial social assistance benefits are arbitrary numbers that come nowhere close to reflecting the real costs of rent, food and other basic necessities in our communities.
The idea of an unconditional basic income is in fashion. From Finland to Switzerland, from San Francisco to Seoul, people talk about it as they have never done. Twice before, basic income was the object of a real public debate, albeit briefly and limited to one country at a time. In both episodes, the centre left played a central role.
The first debate took place in England in the aftermath of World War I ...
The second debate took place in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s ...
London’s current primary response to food insecurity among its citizens has been based on charitable models which include foodbanks, food pantries, and soup kitchens/hospitality meals. These are reactive models which seek to address an immediate need for food, but do not go further to address and/or to challenge the underlying cause of that pre-existing need for food. While these models are provided with the best intentions, and are helpful in the moment, they are not capable of building food security in London and, in fact, their very structure tends to increase the experience of food insecurity among the patrons that they serve.
Despite anti-poverty efforts, hunger in Canada has not decreased – and it has now reached epidemic levels in Nunavut, where almost half of households suffer from food insecurity, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.
“We know that social assistance recipients are particularly vulnerable, and the latest numbers show rates of food insecurity as high as 82% among people reliant on social assistance in Nova Scotia and 83% among those in Nunavut. At the same time, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the majority of food insecure households in our country are working families.” said Naomi Dachner, co-author of the report.
Ontario is one of the wealthiest places in North America, and yet every year one in 10 people, including one in six children, faces the issue of not having enough to eat.
Dr. Valerie Tarasuk joins Steve Paikin on TVO’s The Agenda to discuss food insecurity in Canada and what we’ve learned after a decade of monitoring the problem.
This introductory article by guest editor, Elizabeth McIsaac of Maytree, provides an overview of the strategies and policies for rights-based poverty reduction in Canada beginning with the need for common language and goals.
Referring to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights endorsed by Canada in 1972, McIssac identifies many challenges and complexities and the obligation to implement the Covenant at all levels of government. In particular, she notes that individuals cannot currently claim their rights through the courts in Canada.
Vu Le is a writer, speaker, and executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a capacity building organization with a focus on levelling the playing field for people of colour as well as small, grass roots organizations.
With minor paraphrasing here is what Vu Le wrote:
Trickle-Down Community Engagement is when professionals bypass the people who are most affected by issues and instead engage and fund large organizations and systems to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free and on our timelines, within our rules of engagement and end up grateful for our largesse.
The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society is facing criticism over a rule change made last year barring anyone who uses the service from full voting membership.
The membership rules undermine the dignity of people who use the service, said member Jim Spencley, who has used the food bank services intermittently over the last three years.
"We can get their charity but we can't contribute to the process," he said. "I find that offensive."
The cost of eating healthy in Algoma has risen 20 percent over the last five years, according to data compiled by Algoma Public Health.
That's almost three times the rate of inflation, and it doesn't include this year's spike in food costs attributed to the low dollar and the resulting high cost of importing the 81 percent of fruits, vegetables and nuts that Canadians buy from other countries.
The Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health says that food banks and meal programs are an ineffective response to this food insecurity problem.
The group is pushing for a basic income guarantee and increased social assistance rates to reflect the actual costs of nutritious food and adequate housing as reported by the nutritious food basket program and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. rental income reports.
Low-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to budget for healthy food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Many are forced to make less healthy decisions and children, unfortunately, are the biggest losers in this scenario. In fact, 18,000 children are living with food insecurity each month in the Greater Montreal region.
Parents are going through a difficult period because children's products are expensive and rare on food banks' shelves. And yet, donations of food items for babies and infants only represent about 1% of total donations received.
Most Canadians cannot bear the thought that so many in this country are hungry. That's why we have food banks, an effort started by ordinary Canadians in their communities, distributing food to those who didn’t have enough to eat. But after more than thirty years of trying, food banks have been unable to solve the problem of hunger...
It’s not surprising that food banks haven’t been able to eliminate hunger, because the upstream problem is poverty. Food insecurity is one of the many symptoms of poverty and will disappear only when we effectively tackle its source.
A ‘food desert’ is an urban area where people face serious physical and economic obstacles to accessing healthy foods, especially without access to a personal vehicle.
Here in Saskatoon, we had a large food desert that was restored to sustainability by a co-operative grocery store. Now that it has closed after three and a half years of operation, healthy food access is once again a problem in Saskatoon’s inner city.
Everyone’s talking about the Trudeau government's first federal budget, in part because it’s deficit financed and in part because of some of the historic investments it’s making.
Here are the four points that jump out:
Significant contributions in poverty reduction
Affordable housing and transit on track
Does Ontario have a BFF in Ottawa?
Responsible deficit financing
Governments in Canada are suddenly keen on basic income.
The Ontario Liberals are planning a pilot project. A Liberal-dominated federal committee thinks the idea is worth studying as well. The Manitoba Green Party says if their elected in the province's upcoming election, they'll implement a basic income. The Saskatchewan NDP also support a pilot project for a basic income in that province.
With all its supporters, you may think basic income is an idea from the political left. However, a guaranteed basic income has support from some you might consider rather right-wing, libertarians.
Premier Kathleen Wynne is hopeful a landmark pilot project that would give some of the province’s poorest residents a guaranteed minimum income will be in place next year.
In her most detailed comments yet on a measure introduced in Finance Minister Charles Sousa’s Feb. 25 budget, Wynne said the poverty-reduction proposal comes from “a real concern around the way social assistance works in Ontario.”
The Canadian Press asked people who are homeless or work with those on the street in Thunder Bay — one of the worst cities in Canada for homelessness — what advice they would give the federal government as it crafts its first budget and a poverty reduction strategy.
Here's what they had to say, in their own words:
"Housing, housing, housing. That's what we need. That's what we need in our community, that's what we need across Canada. We need a national housing strategy." — Brad King, operations manager, Shelter House, Thunder Bay
The federal Liberals have no interest in backing away from an election promise to spend more on affordable housing, says Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu.
As communities across Canada engage in a first-ever federally organized and detailed census of homelessness, pressure on the government to act is mounting as community leaders better understand the stubbornness of the problem.
The details of how much the government will spend in the sector next year will be outlined in next week's budget.
IT’S a confluence of events that began three years ago when the federal government began collecting information on people visiting shelters as a way to try to gauge the extent of homelessness in Canada.
At about the same time many municipalities were experiencing the heights of the problem. Shelter and food bank use was (and is) skyrocketing while a shortage of public housing and rising food prices combined to boost poverty levels.
Provinces, including Ontario, began to build plans to combat the problems that have only grown worse, fast. Ontario must act faster.
Now there are people saying that this is a good time to launch one or more pilot projects to really test the concept. My view is that this is well-intentioned but wrong. We have ample historical proof that doing a pilot project and evaluating it carefully is a fail proof way of ensuring that the real thing will never get done.
We don’t want to delay this action until the economy is in a different phase, and the political stars are differently aligned. Now is the time for bold action and Mr Trudeau seems like just the right person to lead it.
Universal basic income, in the world of public policy geeks, is a bit like drones in the world of techies. Right at the moment, it’s hard to tell whether they’re the trendy obsession of a few wonky tinkerers, or the future of the world. The idea is so simple and so grand that it sounds like something a teenager might propose—“what would happen if we just gave everybody free money?” And yet versions of universal basic income are currently being tried out in countries with the most effective and innovative public services in the world. The city of Utrecht, Netherlands, has just begun a guaranteed income program; Finland is undertaking its first unconditional income supplements. Canada is now set to follow them.
People on social assistance are judged as frivolous and immoral for making ethical purchases such as organic food, while the rich are considered virtuous for the same choices, new research shows.
“We as a society judge these type of purchases, whether it’s organic or fair trade, as being good things — they have this moral halo,” said lead author Darren Dahl, senior associate dean of faculty for the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
“People on welfare tend to be seen as undeserving of more expensive options and wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned cash,” he said. “People feel these individuals have not earned the right to make these kinds of choices.”
The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released their concluding observations on Canada earlier today. They gave Canada its marching orders to use international human rights across the board to address several areas of concern, including the lack of implementation and protection of economic, cultural and social rights (ESC) for the most vulnerable.
There’s an economic advantage to mincome when you consider the growing costs of poverty. Factoring in health, employment insurance, social transfers and justice system expenses, the national annual burden exceeds $70 billion. Although solutions stare us in the face, we continue to pay for widespread destitution. For example, it’d be cheaper to provide the homeless with their own apartments than having them sleep in a shelter bed that can cost $1,200 a month.
Our safety nets are all over the place: a medley of cash transfers for the old, debt relief for students, monthly support for parents and 13 distinct welfare programs make up the Canadian social assistance model.
What we’re left with is a disjointed system that sometimes fails to help much at all. To compound the problem, “welfare rates fluctuate according to political whim,” says Sheila Regehr, former director of the National Council of Welfare. “There is no rationale. There’s nothing that pegs it at a rate that means something substantial. It’s just ‘How low can we get it?’”
It is not new information that eating healthy and getting the proper nutrients has substantial positive effects on one’s health, both mentally and physically. Although, what about the barriers that keep individuals from reaping in these health benefits? What about the working poor and low-income families that do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables because they are too expensive? It becomes evident that there is a direct relation between health and income. While high income does not ensure good health, low-income almost inevitably leads to poor health and raises the costs for our health care system.
Poverty is the biggest determinant of health. As such, we should expect to see significant improvements in health among recipients of a basic income. For example, the Mincome data showed that under a BIG, hospital visits dropped by 8.5 per cent. This included fewer emergency room visits from car crashes and domestic abuse, and fewer mental health visits. In Ontario today, these indicators along with others — such as low birth weight, avoidable hospitalizations, and health system expenditures — are already measured, and a close look at the impact of a BIG on those metrics must be included in a basic income pilot
Rarely has a Liberal government in Ontario tabled a less child-friendly budget than Jobs for Today and Tomorrow. The highlights of the province's 2016 financial plan - a cap-and-trade carbon-pricing scheme and free college and university tuition for lower-income students - overshadowed the absence of help for children in need.
There was a miserable 1.5-per-cent increase in social assistance rates for Ontario's poorest families. To put that in perspective, food prices went up by 4 per cent in January. Transit fares (except for monthly Metropasses) went up by 8.3 per cent in November.
Canadians face immense challenges. Many families struggle to pay the rent; they can't afford their children's school supplies or school trips. Many rely on donations at the food bank just to feed their families.
In numbers, one in seven Canadians live in poverty. That's over five million people -- including over one million children. And there are an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people homeless. Last year close to 900, 000 Canadians used food banks every month, with over one third of those children.
We also have increasing income and wealth inequality that is changing the core of our society. The Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a "C" grade for inequality, ranking us 12th out of 17 countries studied.
FOOD INSECURITY – Over 4 million Canadians worry about not having enough food. PROOF is a research group looking to solve the issue.
How can it be that in a rich country like Canada, food insecurity, and its most extreme form—hunger—are not rare? In fact, 1 in 8 households in cover of Canadian Public Policy journalCanada is food insecure. Would an answer be apparent if we knew how the problem was talked about by our legislators?
In our paper ... we examined how food insecurity is discussed in the Canadian political discourse, specifically in Parliament and in selected provincial legislatures. We analyzed the Federal Hansard records and those of three provinces over the last two decades to bring to light how Canadian politicians construct the problem of household food insecurity.
We learned in the political debates that food insecurity is inextricably linked to food banks in this country. Food banks are in fact the dominant charitable response to hunger in Canada, and have been since the 1980s. The problem is that food banks don’t address the fundamental cause of food insecurity – inability to afford food- and also cannot possibly on their own address the issue of hunger. As Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank points out, food bank use only scratches the surface of food insecurity: many who need help do not even use food banks.
Food bank stats significantly understate the prevalence of food insecurity. We know this because Statistics Canada has been monitoring the problem nationally for almost a decade through the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). With its rigorous methods and large sample size this survey provides reliable health data at the provincial, territorial and national levels. It reveals more than four million Canadians were food insecure in 2012 - the most recent national estimate we have.
Food Banks Canada surveys its members every March to estimate use. In 2012 they estimated that only 882,188 people used food banks that month. The stark difference between the results of the CCHS and Food Banks Canada shows there's a much larger problem than we've understood. Food insecurity in Canada is a national crisis.
Changes in Canadian public policy tend to be incremental, but a groundswell seems to be building for a plan that could radically remake our social benefits structure.
The concept is simple. Replace the raft of income-support provisions currently administered, means-tested, audited and doled out by various levels of government – welfare, community housing allowances, employment insurance – with a single benefit. It could be run through the tax system. If your income is below a certain level, you get a cheque.
It’s time to test the assumptions in the real world. Launch some guaranteed annual income pilot programs. Let’s see how theory translates into practice in Canada.
A basic income guarantee could replace social assistance, with all its problems, as well as supplement earned income. An adequate basic income would virtually eliminate food insecurity in this country. This is one of the major ways in which basic income would operate to save us money, by improving health and saving costs in the health care system.
In addition, if a basic income were effective in addressing poverty, we would see the food banks in this country disappear because no one would need them anymore. Imagine what other projects we could tackle with so much energy and time and enthusiasm released from charitable food provisioning.
That a neoliberal government like the one we have in Quebec, which has sought by all means since coming to power to reduce the size and role of the state, is suddenly enthusiastic about a guaranteed minimum income should arouse suspicion. Like they say, the devil is in the details, and that’s where we should focus our attention.
The National Food Waste Council is proposing a tax credit to corporations when they donate food to charities. This tax credit is meant to encourage food donation.
The argument for the tax credit is: donating isn’t free. Companies still have to get their product to the organization and that has labour and transportation costs associated with it. Give a tax credit and you will incentivize companies to divert food directly to organizations in need. Sounds fair enough right? Well, hold up a second critics are saying.
This tax credit is not an innovative waste management idea. Moving forward with a tax credit like this incentivizes the status quo, and we certainly don’t need more of that.
The federal minister responsible for reducing poverty says he is interested in the idea of a guaranteed income in Canada.
Veteran economist Jean-Yves Duclos, who is Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, told The Globe and Mail the concept has merit as a policy to consider after the government implements more immediate reforms promised during the election campaign.
While the average Canadian spends only 10 per cent of their income on food, low income households may spend as much as 75 per cent. So, naturally, when food prices go up, those least able to deal with the financial shock are often the hardest hit.
In response, some well-meaning activists urge us to carry on the "giving spirit of the holidays" into the new year by donating to food banks and other social service agencies ..."
However, this sort of philanthropy is dangerous. As Alberta Views magazine argued so well, private support to such charities allows the government to avoid fulfilling its responsibilities of providing basic services. This forces already vulnerable groups to rely on the funding "whims" of individual wealthy citizens -- which seems completely unnatural but has come to be accepted and even encouraged by initiatives such as food bank drives.
Just as we would not accept that someone's ability to visit the doctor when ill or the right of a child to attend school should be left to other people's generosity, the better-off should not be determining if and what the poorest eat.
"Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that the lives of people living in deepest poverty has not changed," said Tom Cooper, director of the Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
Cooper added people living in poverty face more challenges than 10 years ago — higher rents, fewer vacancies for low-income earners, homeless shelters at capacity, longer subsidized housing waiting lists, increased food bank needs, and tighter eligibilities for employment insurance making it difficult to access.
Cooper said it's shameful that the provincial government has "institutionalized poverty and food banks" by making them permanent realities for those on social assistance.
It's frustrating that despite years of advocating for anti-poverty measures that Hamilton — and Canada — still experiences high levels of poverty, he said.
Access to healthy food continues to be a problem for many low income people in our district. The Cost of Healthy Eating Report 2015 shows that a family of four receiving Ontario Works spends about 90% of their monthly income on rent and food. This leaves only $200 for utilities, clothing, toiletries, transportation, school costs, childcare, phone, etc.
The Board of Health passed a resolution last night calling on the provincial government to prioritize the investigation of a basic income guarantee. This income security program would ensure a basic income for all, indexed to inflation, regardless of employment status.
What is food security? As defined at the 1996 World Food Summit, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
Studies indicate that the poorer a person is, the more likely that person is to have anxiety, high blood pressure and health conditions like heart disease.
The consequences of food insecurity are worrying from humanitarian and policy perspectives. People who don’t have proper diets get sick more often, making it harder to keep a job and apartment, and taxing the health-care system. Children who grow up hungry are behind the eight ball when it comes to how they will do at school and how healthy they will be into adulthood.
Welland city councillors hope to help influence a major change in the way the 14.9 per cent of Canadians living in poverty are assisted.
Councillors Tuesday night added their support to a motion from the City of Kingston to lobby the federal and provincial governments to work towards developing a basic income guarantee for all Canadians.
“People living in poverty right now are vulnerable and they’re open to social difficulties, health issues and more stress,” said Councillor Bonnie Fokkens.
Poverty, she said, can lead to problems in society that cost more to deal with than resolving poverty itself.
Haldimand-Norfolk has the worst record for food insecurity in Ontario, and health officials want more done to fight poverty locally.
Laura Goyette, a dietitian with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, urged Norfolk councillors at last week’s board of health meeting to get behind a movement to change the way organizations deal with food insecurity.
“We need to move away from food charity,” Goyette said in a phone interview
There are hard benefits to alleviating poverty.
The problem is that the methodologies that show these benefits tend not to be used in traditional budgeting.
1. We tend not to look at Direct and Indirect Savings
2. We seldom count the costs of Inaction (Cost of Poverty)
3. We almost never do Cost Benefit Analysis
Each of these different types of analyses offers a different way of looking at poverty reduction. By ignoring the offsets, savings and benefits that could be estimated using these methods, decision-makers otherwise miss out on the chance to understand the economic returns related to investment in poverty reduction efforts.
The creation of a broader balance sheet can refute the incorrect conclusion that poverty reduction only relates to those low-income residents who are directly impacted. Reducing poverty has positive impacts for all Torontonians.
Food insecurity is not just about nutrition. It is about hopelessness and despair. It leads to high stress levels, mental health problems, more frequent and serious health problems, poorer decision-making and the inability of children to concentrate at school. It is a vicious cycle that keeps people from realizing their potential, caring properly for their families and contributing to their communities.
Food banks, and the generosity of those who support them and volunteer at them, keep some food on the table.
But as a society, we need to figure out a system that doesn’t rely on welcome but highly variable charitable donations to keep all our citizens healthy, happy and well-fed.