KAWARTHA LAKES-A new report by Feed Ontario released on Monday found between April 1st, 2020 and March 31st, 2021, a record 592,308 people accessed Ontario’s food bank network, visiting 3,683,305 times. That’s an increase of more than 10%
Locally the most common reason given for visiting food banks is the high cost of housing according to Kawartha Lakes Food Source. (KLFS) Following close behind are medical expenses, unemployment, low wages, not enough working hours, and the high cost of food.
The pandemic has compounded these issues, but income insecurity has been on the rise and food bank use has been increasing since 2017, according to the report.
Kawartha Lakes Food Source echoes these findings and, like the Hunger Report, their data shows that 70% of City of Kawartha Lakes food bank visitors cite social assistance, including Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario Works, or Old Age Security, as their primary source of income.
Feed Ontario recommends building a stronger social safety net by investing in social programs, aligning Ontario’s social assistance rates with the poverty line of the recipient’s community, and adjusting rates annually with inflation.
“There is a clear need for social change when nearly 2 in 3 Ontario food bank visitors have less than $100/month left after paying for housing and utilities.” said Sharon Walker, Administration and Project Support Coordinator Kawartha Lakes Food Source in a press release.
When it comes to housing, 75% of local food bank visitors are rental or social housing tenants and nearly 70% are single parent or single adult households.
“The cost of shelter, let alone food, is hard to sustain on one income. Feed Ontario recommends investing in affordable and supportive housing by expanding the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit.” Walker stated.
To help address employment-related factors contributing to food insecurity, Feed Ontario recommends connecting people to quality employment by improving labour laws and supports for workers, including increasing the number of sick days, promoting access to employment rights and benefits programs regardless of work type, and reinstating the right to refuse last-minute work requests.
Employment in the rural setting of the City of Kawartha Lakes comes with added transportation challenges and sparse childcare options according to KLFS.
KLFS says it endorses the 2021 Hunger Report’s call to action to bring lived experience to the centre of policy and program design and recommends passing Bill 60, the Ministry of Community and Social Services Amendment Act (Social Assistance Research Commission), 2018.
“The food insecurity crisis is worsening. Your voice matters. Help bring anti-poverty platforms to the forefront of the 2022 provincial and municipal elections. Learn about the issues in our community (research, read and become active in the field); educate friends and family (talk about the actions we can take towards positive change); and advocate for policy changes (contact your MP, MPP, and municipal representatives by email, phone, or social media).” Walker said.