A volatile combination of high housing costs, pandemic job losses, rising food costs and an anticipated further pull-back on government supports is creating a “perfect storm” that has Canada’s food banks bracing for a “tidal wave” of new clients in the months ahead, according to the newly released Food Banks Canada HungerCount 2021 report https://hungercount.foodbankscanada.ca/
The landmark report – the only research study encompassing the country’s 4750+ food banks and community organizations – shows the stark impact of how the pandemic is exacerbating poverty, food insecurity and hunger in Canada and advocates for long-term social programs to help low-income and unemployed Canadians weather the storm. HungerCount 2021 reports that in March 2021, Canadians made 1.3 million visits to food banks – a 20.3% increase over March 2019, the largest increase in visits since the country was plunged into recession in 2008.
HungerCount 2021 findings
Over one-in-four food banks located in larger urban centres saw their usage more than double compared to two years earlier
One third of clients are children, even though they only represent 19% of the general population
27% of Canadians accessing food banks are on fixed incomes such as pensions or disability benefits
Food bank demand in larger urban centres was more likely to be attributed to job loss
Urban food banks were also more like to be accessed by racialized populations than food banks in other regions
“We have a pivotal choice to make, to return to a “pre-pandemic” cycle of poverty or to build a better Canada where no one goes hungry and poverty is addressed at its root causes,” says David Armour, Interim CEO of Food Banks Canada. “Early in the pandemic, government housing and income supports helped flatten demand at Canada’s food banks, but in recent months, visits are beginning to surge with nearly one-in-seven food banks experiencing doubling of demand – and food bank visits soaring in Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario,” he says.
According to HungerCount 2021, the power of COVID-19 related government supports like the CERB, and housing relief measures were felt immediately at food banks and helped to temporarily flatten food bank visits by supporting vulnerable Canadians who were hit hard by the pandemic.
“Our experience during the pandemic, proves that good social policies have significant impact on reducing food insecurity when they truly address the causes of low-incomes, unemployment, housing costs and poverty,” says Kirstin Beardsley, Food Banks Canada’s Chief Network Services Officer. Beardsley explains that Food Banks Canada is calling for five steps to repair Canada’s broken and outdated social safety nets to stem the tidal wave of increased poverty and food insecurity Canada faces in the months ahead.
New supports for renters living with low incomes
67% of current food bank clients live in rental housing
46% of Canadians now say the cost of housing is the highest obstacle in affording food – up from 21% in 2020
Immediately implement a national rent support program based on an expanded version of the Canada Housing Benefit so that Canadians who are struggling to afford their rent can access support while the rest of the National Housing Strategy takes effect.
Modernize and expand supports for low wage and unemployed workers
HungerCount 2021 advocates for a sweeping overhaul of Canada’s outdated EI policy, benefits and eligibility requirements – including allowing workers to retain more earnings while claiming EI, permanently expanding eligibility to include “self-employed” Canadians, the creation of a Disability Hiring Strategy – and government incentives for employers who offer a living wage.
Progress toward a minimum income floor
“It’s time to build a Canada where no one is left behind. That means adopting a new approach towards a social safety net that creates a minimum income floor so that every Canadian has the supports they need to lift themselves up and move ahead,” says Beardsley, who explains that HungerCount 2021 recommends a phased approach to work with provinces to test and pilot new and progressive minimum income floor programs focused on breaking the poverty cycle.
Income supports for low income single adults
Almost half of all people who need help from a food bank are adults who live alone
Single adults are grossly over-represented in food banks, and one third of all single adults in Canada live in poverty
Make single, low-income, working age adults a priority consideration in all future poverty reduction measures, including an expanded and modernized EI and mental health supports to ensure that this vulnerable population is no longer left behind.
Enhance measures to reduce Northern food insecurity
“Northern food insecurity remains a significant concern for Food Banks Canada, and we anticipate lasting pandemic impacts in the months ahead that will require thoughtful and progressive minimum income reforms, the creation of a new Northern Development and Revitalization Plan and skills training opportunities,” says Beardsley.
HungerCount 2021 also recommends collaboration with the newly formed Inuit to Crown Working Group, to initiate a comprehensive review of Nutrition North Canada to determine why the program is only minimally achieving its objectives of reducing the cost of food in the North.