Food bank usage has hit an all-time high in Canada and will get worse unless governments take action, a new report warns.
Food Banks Canada, a national charitable organization, released its HungerCount 2023 study Wednesday, which also revealed that one-third of food bank clients are children.
“Food banking in some ways is an unpredictable business. It’s hard to know when we’ll see these increases and decreases, but we’re actually looking at tough times ahead unless governments take action,” Kirstin Beardsley, CEO of Food Banks Canada, told Global News.
“If we don’t see government action, I’m afraid we’re going to see another growth in food bank use and quite frankly, I don’t know how much more years of this kind of growth food banks can handle and absorb.”
Montreal food banks face obstacles ahead of Thanksgiving
The data in the report from 2,388 food banks was collected in March, which Food Banks Canada said it uses annually as a study period given it’s an “unexceptional month without predictable high- or low-use patterns.”
The 2023 report shows 1,935,911 Canadians accessed food banks during that time, an increase of 32 per cent compared with the same period in 2022 and 78.5 per cent compared with March 2019.
It said the increase coincided with the highest rates of general inflation in 40 years. The Bank of Canada has aggressively raised its prime lending rate in a bid to cool inflation. It held its policy rate at five per cent Wednesday, noting there are clearer signs of the economy cooling and inflation easing. However, it did leave the door open to future rate increases, citing concerns that inflationary risks have increased.
Overall inflation has cooled significantly since last summer’s 8.1 per cent peak, coming in at 3.8 per cent in September. The price of groceries, however, continues to outpace headline inflation, with the September data placing grocery price growth at 5.8 per cent year over year, down from 6.9 per cent in August and 8.5 per cent in July.
Ottawa has introduced five measures to stabilize grocery prices in Canada, including the creation of a task force and a grocery code of conduct.
Feds’ plan to boost grocery store competition: Canada’s industry minister
Still, Food Banks Canada said the top reasons why survey respondents used food banks this year were food and housing costs, low wages or not enough hours of work. Furthermore, 17 per cent of food bank clients reported employment as their main source of income, compared with 12 per cent in 2019.
When it comes to the type of clients using food banks, one-third of them are children. In fact, 642,257 children were reported as accessing food banks during the study period. Seniors, single mothers, low-income workers, people on social assistance and immigrants also continue to drive food bank use.
More than 40 per cent of users are on provincial social assistance programs, the report said, with stagnant payments that put most recipients under the official poverty line. Indigenous people are disproportionately represented among food bank users at 12 per cent, while making up around five per cent of the general population, the report said.
Panera sued over ‘Charged Lemonade’ energy drink after college student dies
Bank of Canada holds key rate, but leaves door open to future hikes
Trudeau says his government has brought down inflation while helping Canadians
“We’ve seen decades of social safety net neglect, quite frankly, social policy neglect and that means that people’s incomes aren’t keeping up with costs. Then we add on to it this affordability crisis and folks just aren’t able to make their budgets stretch through the month,” Beardsley said.
“The depth of suffering across the country, the number of people who’ve hit a breaking point and are turning to their communities for support, it’s just it overwhelming to think of that replicated right across the country.”
In terms of solutions, Food Banks Canada issued a number of policy recommendations for governments ranging from affordable housing to income support.
Food insecurity linked to poor mental health in children
One of those recommendations is temporarily allowing low-income households access to non-cash benefits currently only available to people on social assistance programs.
Furthermore, Ottawa should examine the potential for a national rent assistance program, delivered collaboratively with the provinces and territories as part of federal and provincial housing agreements, the report indicates.
“They’re practical. They’re things that we believe governments should care about and take action on today,” Beardsley said.
“We want to see ourselves put out of a job, as you said, we want to see the amount of food bank use come down, but quite frankly that’s not being met with an urgency at the government level and that’s not OK.”
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
#Food #bank #usage #hits #alltime #high #Canada #prompting #calls #government #action #National