Canada’s food banks are booming, to our shame

Posted on November 8, 2014 in Social Security Debates – Opinion/Editorials – A record number of Canadians visit a food bank each month, according to the latest HungerCount report.
Nov 07 2014.   Editorial

It’s hard to believe hunger has a place in Canada. This is a country that ranks 11th out of 186 countries on the UN Human Development Index, which measures standards of living.

That’s why the annual HungerCount report, which found that a record number of Canadians are using food banks, is so disturbing.

And it seems it’s only getting worse: The study from Food Banks Canada found that 841,000 people visited a food bank during March of this year, a 1-per-cent increase from the previous year. And that figure is up 25 per cent from 2008 when the most recent economic downturn hit. Nor are numbers slowing: 87,533 people turned to food banks in March for the first time this year.

While 37 per cent of those helped by food banks were children, this year’s report found food-bank clients are increasingly single (43 per cent of the total up from 29 per cent in 2001), and increasingly male. All of this is completely unnecessary in a country as wealthy as Canada.

As the report outlines in well-documented detail, there’s much Ottawa can immediately do to turn the tide on hunger.

Instead, the Harper government seems focused on providing tax benefits, such as income-splitting, to its well-off constituent base before next year’s election.

If it wasn’t so focused on vote-pandering, the government would carefully consider the HungerCount report’s recommendations before providing tax relief to those who are not among the neediest. Among the suggestions:

– The high cost of housing is one of the key factors driving Canadians to food banks. The report recommends a federal fund that social housing providers can draw on for capital repairs, maintenance and retrofits.

– The demand for rental housing is far outpacing supply and driving up rents that eat into income which could be used for food. Ottawa could use tax reforms to encourage the building of new rental housing units.

– To reduce the need for food banks for the working poor, child care subsidies, affordable housing supplements, and drug and dental insurance benefits should be removed from welfare and made available to all low-income Canadians.

– To enable parents to enter and remain in the labour force Ottawa should invest in affordable child care.

The short story from this report on hunger is this: if there’s room in the Harper government’s budget to lose $27 billion in revenues for income-splitting and family tax cuts, there’s room for measures to make sure that everyone in this country is properly fed.

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2 Responses to “Canada’s food banks are booming, to our shame”

  1. Shane Taylor says:

    The increased use of food banks is a phenomenon that has been occurring for the past few decades.

    Not surprising, poverty has been on the rise for decades too. Food bank usage is just one more symptom of poverty, much like increased addictions, increased mental illness, increased levels of domestic abuse, and increased incarcerations among the poorest people in society.

    Poverty itself is a symptom of Canada’s move towards global markets and free trade. All of these issues trend in a similar fashion. Globalization increases, capitalistic markets grow/or crash, poverty rises and all of the symptoms of poverty increase.

    The real trick our various neo-liberal governments has pulled, is to make the middle-class and poorest people in society believe that building a more capitalistic society will cure poverty and make Canadian society what it once was.

    Many Canadians have embraced to tenants of individualism, and until that changes Canadians will not likely put serious expectations on the government to do anything meaningful about poverty or food banks.

    I would argue that the Federal and Provincial governments like food banks, because they are more cost-effective than dealing with the real issues surrounding poverty.

    That’s just my opinion.

    Shane Taylor

  2. Alison says:

    Letter to the Editor

    The shown increase in the usage of food banks in Canada through the Food Banks Canada study is alarming. How does this number continue to grow and how does it not become more of a priority to develop effective strategies to combat an ever-increasing social issue. It is unfortunate like you said to see the government continue to introduce benefits that support higher income families through income-splitting, while the larger population of individuals and families are left struggling as shown through this study. The fact that the use of food banks still persists and has become so widespread in a wealthy country should not be ignored. It should also not be ignored that the groups of individuals mainly accessing food banks are minority groups specifically First Nations and recent immigrants. These groups are already at risk of facing unacceptable situations of poverty, and the dependence on food banks shows the further challenges they face through marginalization. Food banks have been around for centuries and where never meant to be a solution to end poverty. The focus on finding solutions and strategies to alleviate this use should be of top priority. Some of the solutions presented are simple and could be easily enforced to begin to address this issue. Some recommendations bring light to further structural problems present in Canadian society today. The complexities and depth of the issues with finding safe and affordable housing in a time of soaring prices and never ending wait-lists for subsidized rent would need to be taken seriously. High unemployment or under-employment especially for marginalized groups would need to be addressed and the amount of people earning minimal wages that keeps them living below the poverty line need to not be ignored and left struggling with do I make rent this month or do I buy groceries. Some solutions seem simple and easy, but others present further problems that the government continues to ignore. The only question that really remains is when do we stop reacting to the issues with food bank usage and poverty in Canada, and start acting to prevent it overall.


    BSW Student

    Laurentian University


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