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HomeHealth and LifestyleMore employed Ontarians accessing food banks, report says

More employed Ontarians accessing food banks, report says

Written by a representative for Feed Ontario/Courtesy Muskoka 411

A new report by Feed Ontario reveals a 27 per cent increase in the number of individuals with employment income accessing food banks over the last three years.

Feed Ontario, formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks, released its 2019 Hunger Report today, revealing that 510,438 individuals accessed a food bank last year, visiting more than 3,059,000 times. This report finds that, despite the province’s low unemployment rate, Ontario’s food banks continue to see increasingly high levels of use, and that there is an emerging trend in the number of individuals with employment income that require the support of a food bank to make ends meet.

“Over the last three years, Ontario’s food banks have seen a 27 per cent increase in the number of adults with employment income accessing their services,” says Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director of Feed Ontario. “This tells us that, while these individuals are working in a full or part time position, they have not been able to secure sufficient income to afford all of their basic necessities each month, like rent, heat, hydro, or food.”

The 2019 Hunger Report identifies the rise in precarious work, changes to Ontario’s labour laws, and insufficient support provided through worker and social assistance programs as key contributors to this emerging trend. Further, the report highlights changing demographics in Ontario’s workforce citing that adults over 25 years of age now hold nearly half of all minimum wage positions in the province, with 1 in 3 having a post-secondary education.

“Ontario’s job market is changing. Not only are we seeing a rise in casual and contract employment, but we are seeing more adults having no choice but to work in temporary or minimum wage positions,” says Stewart. “Oftentimes, these positions do not provide consistent wages or work hours, and seldom provide employer health benefits or paid time off. This is reflected in Ontario’s food bank data, which indicates ‘low wages and/ or insufficient hours’ as one of the most common reasons for needing support.”

In addition to the changing job market, the 2019 Hunger Report argues that changes to worker programs like WSIB and Employment Insurance (EI) have made it increasingly more difficult for injured workers or the recently unemployed to access support. As a result, many Ontarians have no choice but to move onto Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, two programs that were not intended for this purpose and that provide financial support that falls significantly below the poverty line, with a respective income of only $8,796 and $14,028 per year.

“When programs for recently unemployed or injured workers are not accessible, it leaves little choice but to turn to social assistance for support,” says Stewart. “The unfortunate reality is, however, that the support provided by these programs falls well below what is needed for a basic standard of living and often results in hard working adults and families falling into poverty.”

This change in the labour market is taking a toll on food bank usage.  Heather Kirby, General Manager of Kawartha Lakes Food Source says “The road to the door of a food bank is as different as there are stars in the sky.  Housing, child care and transportation are expenses that must be a priority which moves food to the bottom of the list.  These choices are nearly impossible to make.”

Ontario’s food banks are working hard to respond to the increasing and changing demand for their services. In addition to emergency food support, many food banks provide job fairs and resume writing workshops, interview prep, assistance with filing income taxes or applying for support programs, child care, housing help, and accredited training programs.

Provincially, Feed Ontario is calling on the provincial government to make significant improvements to Ontario’s social assistance programs, including increases to social assistance rates, an inclusive definition of ‘disability’ under the Ontario Disability Support Program, and the development of a portable housing benefit.

“Feed Ontario believes that its vision of ending poverty and hunger is shared by all levels of government, and that there has never been a greater need for collective action than there is today,” says Stewart. “Through improvements to Ontario’s social assistance programs and government benefits, investments in affordable housing, and the development of quality employment opportunities for Ontarians, we believe that we can reduce poverty while building a future where no one goes hungry.”

To download a full copy of the 2019 Hunger Report, or to find out more about food banks in Ontario, visit the Feed Ontario website.

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