It’s time for politicians to take food insecurity and poverty seriously

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors
Aug. 15, 2018.   By

Four million Canadians experience food insecurity — far too many in a country as wealthy as Canada. We are not going to end poverty with canned food donations. Our elected officials need to be thinking bolder about what it will actually take to end poverty in Canada — not cutting programs that help those who struggle the most.

One of the biggest challenges in effectively tackling poverty is that we have made it the responsibility of charity. Our over reliance on food banks and corporate food charity as our default response has proven ineffective at achieving long-term change. Also consider that 21 per cent of food banks report having had to turn people away because there was no food to give out.

We need to focus on food as a human right and building a food system that includes the elimination of poverty and food insecurity.

Our senior levels of governments must take bold action on reducing poverty and food insecurity. I was 13 years old when Mike Harris’ Progressive Conservatives swept to power. One of their first actions was to cut welfare by 22 per cent. My family lived on welfare for most of my childhood. We made regular trips to food banks, but we still struggled. I’m sure my mother, a diabetic, often went without food so my brother and I could eat.

I felt powerless. The same thing is happening to families today as Ontario’s government has pledged to cut programs and initiatives like the Basic Income Pilot and other social assistance programs without a thought for those that rely on those programs.

These things keep happening, despite Canada having ratified the right to food as part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1976. The right to food does not mean the government is required to give out free food, but it has a duty to create the conditions to allow access to adequate food, which includes the ability to earn a fair living and adequate income benefits.

Today, the number of Canadians who go without food is almost equal to the combined populations of Toronto and Mississauga.

While nonprofits do incredible work, I can’t think of many that can truly claim to be reducing poverty. Why? Because, while non-profit organizations, such as FoodShare Toronto and others, do everything we can to support people access good food, we do not have the power to set welfare and disability rates or minimum wage. We need politicians willing to commit to working with us to dismantle systemic inequities in our society, including racism, white supremacy, the policing of people of colour, violence against women, and of course income inequality.

Governments have at their disposal the tools to develop meaningful legislation that honours food as a right. Poverty and food insecurity are not inevitable. It’s time for us to put them where they belong — in our history books.

Paul M. Taylor is executive director of FoodShare Toronto.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/08/15/its-time-for-politicians-to-take-food-insecurity-and-poverty-seriously.html

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