I was two when my mom got the call, so I don’t remember it. But it's a story my mother told me several times throughout my life, as it was one of her hardest moments.
It was 1984 and food banks were a relatively new addition to my hometown of Calgary, and the rest of Canada. Someone in our community knew we were struggling and had passed our names along to this new organization. One afternoon, a volunteer from the food bank called our house to tell us that they had a hamper ready for us, if we wanted it. My mom hung up the phone and wept. This, for her, was the ultimate sign of her failure as a parent: we were so poor that the food bank was calling.
We need to rethink the way we deal with food insecurity in Toronto. There are a great many people and organizations working on this issue, many whom offer immediate and much-needed access to food for the one in eight Toronto households that are food insecure. Immediate relief is the right humanitarian response, however it doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem. Unless we focus on what is generating food insecurity we will not produce a long-term solution.
Food charity does not replace food insecurity.
That was the crux of a thought-provoking presentation by Mike Balkwill, a well-known social crusader behind a Canadian movement called Put Food in the Budget.
The organizer of a grassroots organization speaking out against food insecurity says the government needs to give Ontarians the tools to get out of poverty, so they don’t have to rely on food banks for their next meal.
Mike Balkwill is the campaign organizer for Putting Food in the Budget, a group of volunteers who live on low incomes, working to change the perception and action around food insecurity in Ontario.
During a presentation to the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre Wednesday afternoon, he defined food insecurity as having a lack of quality food due to living on a low income. The biggest myth about poverty is that it only happens to certain people, Balkwill said.
By now the Mincome experiment is well known. In the 1970s, every resident of Dauphin, a small Manitoba town, was given the option to collect substantial cash payments without work requirements.
One of the most important, but overlooked, virtues of basic income is the absence of social stigma. The routine humiliation of the poor, an enduring feature of highly conditional social assistance systems, melts away in a universally available basic income regime. As one Dauphin participant wrote midway through the experiment, “It trusts the Canadian people and leaves a man or woman, their pride.”
In a perfect world, everyone would always have enough to eat, and would never have to go without just to make rent. In the imperfect world we live in, this isn't the case: poverty exists, accidents happen, sudden job losses occur, and people fall ill.
As a society, we established a system of social welfare programs because we wanted to take better care of each other and ensure that everyone had access to basic needs, even during hard times. It was an effort to get a little bit closer to that perfect world.
On Monday, a new report was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that demonstrates the gap between where we currently are and our vision of where we'd like to be.
It seems like a marriage made in heaven. Eliminate the vast amount of food waste in our society by giving it to the poor and hungry. No more hunger. No more waste. At least that’s what advocates for food-waste-to-the-poor schemes will have us believe. Here at home, MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau will bring her private member’s bill, C-231, Fight Against Food Waste Act, to the House of Commons for second reading today.
But this is a relationship doomed before it even begins. That’s because this bill and other initiatives like it fail to address the real root causes of hunger and food waste. In fact, by conflating and confusing these issues, it makes it harder to develop meaningful and effective strategies to address both of these growing problems.
Simply put, food waste will never be able to address hunger because hunger isn’t about a lack of food. It’s about a lack of income. People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat.
The Toronto Star featured Pauline Bryant and Tracy Mead, leaders of the Put Food in the Budget campaign in this story on Ontario’s Social Assistance Poverty Gap (see here). The analysis by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives says the poverty gap has jumped by almost 200% since 1993.
When asked by the Toronto Star about the Basic Income pilot Pauline said “We can’t wait another ten years for pilot projects.” In response to the same question Tracy said “If they are really serious about a basic income they have to increase welfare rates first, you have to have a reasonable floor to build on.”
On Monday night Pauline and Tracy challenged Premier Wynne in person at a community meeting where she was talking about ‘social justice policy’. Pauline interrupted Premier Wynne to give her a copy of our report ‘Food Banks Are Not Enough’ and to tell her that Wynne has to raise the rates and put food in the budget in order to live up to her promise to be the social justice premier. (See Pauline video here).
We also told the audience that Premier Wynne is misleading them about the priority her government gives to poverty reduction by pointing out that social assistance rate increases have been less than inflation every year the Liberals have been in government, including Wynne’s term. We also told the audience that Kathleen Wynne is proposing reforms to campaign donations that would see limits on donations be indexed to increase with inflation! (see here) while social assistance rates are not indexed to inflation. We asked Wynne repeatedly in front of the audience of 100 why she did not index rates to inflation and she consistently deflected the question.
Back in 2013 when she was running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne famously told the Toronto Star that she wanted to be known as "the social justice premier." She also said that when it came to "liberal values," "I believe social justice is what drives us."
Yet, when it comes to social assistance rates and those trying to live on them in Ontario, after 13 years in office this alleged liberal value of social justice is, to say the least, on scant display.
“Whether you are single, a single parent, or a family with children, if you qualify for social assistance in Ontario, you fall below the poverty line,” says economist Kaylie Tiessen. “The gap is starkest for singles on Ontario Works and is dramatically worse than 20 years ago.”
If the province is serious about fighting poverty, it should raise welfare rates as well as tax credits such as the Trillium Benefit, a monthly payment to all low-income people that provides relief for sales tax, property tax and energy costs, she says.
“Both are necessary,” she says. “One would be investing to ensure that people are receiving enough money to get by regardless of their employment status. And another would be to improve the social assistance rate structure.”
100 People registered for PFIB Annual Campaign Meeting
Ten days until our annual campaign meeting and 100 people are registered!! There’s still time to register – but please hurry – we have to put the lunch order in this week!
When the Ontario Government included a paragraph in the 2016 budget discussing plans for a pilot program testing universal basic income, those on welfare and disability income support probably took notice.
Currently, if you’re collecting monthly Ontario Works payments – the province’s version of welfare – you receive a maximum between $681 per month as a single person and $1,408 as part of a couple with two children. The maximum monthly cheque for those on the Ontario Disability Support Program [ODSP] is a bit higher, between $1,110 for a single person and $2,025 for a couple with two children. Neither payment is anywhere near the average cost of living in Ontario.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which sets the living wage for the province ($18.52 per hour, per person), puts average expenses for a family of four in Toronto at $65,850.55 a year. The ODSP payment at its maximum would pay out $24,300 a year.
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