Hunger on the rise

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Thu Mar 24 2011.

There’s little choice and never enough of anything. But that doesn’t stop record numbers of people from coming through the door.

Monthly visits to food banks have jumped 28 per cent since the economic downturn in 2008, according to a new report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks.

It does none of us any good to have more than 400,000 children, adults and seniors relying on the precarious generosity of strangers for such a basic need.

The report notes that “recessions tend to expose the weak links in society.” The last few years have certainly exposed, yet again, the inadequacy of our social safety net.

We have an employment insurance system that most unemployed Ontarians don’t qualify for. A welfare system that comes nowhere near to covering the real costs of food and shelter, let alone helping people get back on their feet. And we have such a shortage of social housing that wait-lists can run to decades.

The provincial government finally acknowledged the need for change last year and launched a review of social assistance programs. The challenge the panel has undertaken is enormous: designing a program that fairly supports those who cannot work and helps those who can to get a decent job.

The government is determined to keep the focus on changing the punitive rules that demoralize recipients and impede their transition to the workforce and self-sufficiency. That is vital. But a thorough review cannot ignore the fact that it is impossible to keep a roof overhead and nutritious food on the table with a welfare cheque.

That’s why the vast majority of food bank users are on social assistance and the fastest growing group is single adults. Little wonder when a single person on welfare gets just $592 a month.

Food banks are no longer a form of temporary assistance. They have become an ongoing subsidy provided by generous and caring Ontarians to make up for the inadequacy of government programs.

With a federal election all but certain and a provincial one in October, Ontarians have a chance to demand change. Rising food bank use is a clear sign of a shredded social safety net in desperate need of repair.

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