How many more families in Canada’s fifth-largest province could suddenly find themselves in need?
Nearly 600,000 people in Ontario used food banks last year, an increase of 8% over the previous year, and close to 300,000 people with low incomes continued to turn to the food bank sector in 2016/17, according to a new study from the Toronto-based social policy thinktank Institute for Health Policy and Research.
Using government statistics, government data from the Ontario Food Bank Association, estimates from the census and higher-level demographic data from Statistics Canada, it is the first study of its kind looking at the number of families who turned to food banks in Ontario, and its financial, social and political implications for Ontario’s government.
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The findings of the 2017 Ontario Food Banks report make grim reading for the most populous province in Canada, which grapples with a tight economy, tight finances and political gridlock. The province’s unemployment rate remains above the national average, and average wage growth is weak, yet more people are relying on food banks. The number of people accessing the facilities, which feed over 1.2 million people and deliver over 1m food parcels, has steadily increased each year. In 2005/06, more than 1.1 million people used the facilities; in 2015/16, that number had grown to 1.4 million, the study showed.
The report, titled The Cost of Food: How Access to Fresh Food is Changing Ontario, and published in collaboration with the London School of Economics, notes that the poverty housing boom – which has boosted homelessness, affordable housing and food insecurity – has contributed to the trend.
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“A growing income inequality has led to greater numbers of people falling into poverty and housing instability while also exacerbating food insecurity by increasing the dependence on a few services,” said the study. “Alongside rising costs of living there is an increasing focus on control of space and the ability to increase income through the escalation of rent or other affordable housing measures that have served to discourage rent control. This contributes to a lower level of food security.”
To help tackle poverty, Ontario’s government has cut taxes for the middle class, enacted a reduction in hydro costs, and launched a plan to offer more food to poor people.
“We need a real plan for change,” said Paul Cherry, CEO of the Toronto Food Bank. “To really meet the needs of the poor and vulnerable and limit food insecurity. It’s needed not just in time of an economic crisis, but in the depths of a growing need.”