Food for Thought: Report Marks Need for Upstream Solutions

Today, Food Banks Canada released the 2015 Hunger Count report. For the anti-poverty community this report is critical to our understanding of the experience of poverty, particularly as it relates to reliance on food banks throughout each province and territory.

In a country as wealthy as Canada it can be difficult for some to fully understand the realities of the experience of food insecurity. For those who have not had to skip meals so that their children can eat or who haven’t had to live off the last bag of rice for a week until they can make another trip to the food bank, it can be hard to grasp this everyday struggle.

The experience of food insecurity is, in fact, very real for many households in Canada.

According to the report, food bank usage is up by 26% since 2008, before the global financial crisis. This number has been rising steadily over the last seven years; there was a 1.3% rise in usage in the last year alone.

In March of 2015, the month in which numbers are collected, 852,137 people used food banks across the country. The need to visit a food bank can rise without warning, as can falling into poverty. For 78,693 of these individuals visiting food banks, it was their first time.

The increases in food bank usage were mostly the result of increases in Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia. Alberta marked the highest increase in food bank usage with 67,443 people walking through their doors in March 2015. This is a 23.4% increase from the usage in Alberta in 2014. The stark increase is likely a result of the oil patch slowdown in the province.

Additionally, in Northern Canada, food bank usage continues to rise by 9.1% from 2014 to 2015. This is unsurprising considering the recent PROOF report, which noted food insecurity at 45% in Nunavut and 20.4% in the Northwest Territories. For Northern communities with limited access to food banks, food insecurity is at emergency levels.

In the Hunger Count 2015 report, Food Banks Canada suggests that these numbers point to larger systemic causes of poverty including the lack of affordable housing and adequate income supports. The report acknowledges that [w]hile food banks provide an essential service in their communities, they are nevertheless a partial and imperfect solution to the problems caused by widespread poverty and food insecurity”.

These increases in food bank usage reveal the persistency of food insecurity in Canada. There’s no question about it – unless we take real, concrete action, these numbers will continue to rise. Individuals across Canada will continue to struggle to put food on the table.

Despite these severe numbers, we’re starting to see some steps toward something better. Last Friday, in his mandate letter to Minister Duclos (Minister for Families, Children and Social Development), Prime Minister Trudeau relayed instructions to work towards a national anti-poverty plan. As a co-lead in the Dignity for All campaign, this news is particularly exciting to CWP since over the past five years we have created a model national plan.

It’s time for our federal government to recognize that poverty has systemic causes and that people in Canada have a right to live with dignity. With the movement towards a national anti-poverty plan, perhaps we will see real change in next year’s food bank usage numbers.

Statistics from the 2015 Hunger Count:

  • 16% of food bank users are Indigenous (First Nations, Metis or Inuit).
  • Just over 1 in 10 people helped were immigrants or refugees who had arrived in Canada in the past ten years.
  • 57% of rural food banks reported increases in the number of people accessing their services in 2015.
  • 16% of those assisted by food banks earn the majority of their income through work.
  • 46% of households accessing food banks are on provincial social assistance benefits.
  • 67% of households helped by food banks live in rental housing and pay market-level rents.
  • In 2015, more than 1/3 of those helped by food banks were children.


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