Helping our hungry – comment/editorial – Helping our hungry
June 05, 2008

Today is the third annual National Hunger Awareness Day, a reminder that hunger is a growing and unacceptable problem with more than 720,000 Canadians turning to food banks for help every month.

And while half of them are trying to get by on welfare, a troubling 19 per cent of food bank clients are now working, up from 11 per cent a decade ago. That increase has been fuelled by the decline in decent-paying, full-time manufacturing jobs, replaced by low-wage, temporary and part-time service sector jobs. For the first time, there were more Canadians selling products last year than manufacturing them.

“People are out there doing what they can but it’s not enough,” said Katharine Schmidt, executive director of the Canadian Association of Food Banks. A single parent of three in Toronto needs $576 a month to meet her family’s nutritional requirements, but the most she can earn at a minimum-wage job is $1,408 a month. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment leaves only $335 for food and all other expenses.

Despite their precarious jobs, many don’t qualify for Employment Insurance because changes to eligibility mean only 40 per cent of workers can collect benefits, down from 70 per cent a decade ago.

The food bank association is urging Ottawa to do more to help struggling Canadians stand on their own two feet, starting with a national poverty strategy to complement the provincial plans in Quebec and Newfoundland and ones being developed in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

An parliamentary committee is now travelling across Canada laying the foundation for such a strategy, which every party should support. That plan should include a national affordable housing strategy and a commitment to fund more affordable daycare, as the food bank urges.

In these tough times, Ottawa should also reform EI to prevent even more Canadians from having to turn to food banks to survive.

To help struggling poor parents, the food bank association wants the national child benefit raised to $5,000 from its current average of $3,000. Half of households using food banks have at least one child.

Those four measures would go a long way toward ensuring that Canadians’ dependence on food banks does not continue to grow.

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