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In the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding food security/insecurity. But what exactly does this mean?

According to the Government of Canada’s website, food insecurity is defined as: “The inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.

 

There are three levels of food insecurity:

Marginal food insecurity: Worry about running out of food and/or limited food selection.

Moderate food insecurity: Compromise in quality and/or quantity of food.

Severe food insecurity: Miss meals, reduce food intake, and at the most extreme go day(s) without food.

Food insecurity results from much more than not having enough to eat. But only when we discover the issues that cause it can we solve them.  But what are the causes of this growing problem?

 

How can we fix Food Insecurity?

Let’s look into some of the issues that may cause food insecurity.

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Is the area a food desert?
    • A food desert is an area that has limited access to affordable and nutritious food.
  • Are the existing stores easily reachable? Some may be far or hard to get to, or there is no access through public transportation
  • Does one need help or assistance in getting to these stores? For example, an older person or someone with a disability may not be able to get to the store independently or may need the groceries delivered to their home.

 

CHILD CARE

  • Are there sufficient and affordable child care spots?
    • A single parent may not be able to afford full-time child care or
    • There isn’t any availability

If a family has more than one child in daycare, it can become challenging to pay for child care.

 

EDUCATION

It has become necessary to have a post-secondary degree to have access to employment that pays a living wage in today’s society.

A significant amount of the population that immigrates to Canada don’t have the required education, or our government doesn’t recognize the degree from their home country.

It is also challenging for those who grew up living in poverty or in lower-income households to access post-secondary education.

Also, food insecurity, especially during the early years of growth, leads to malnutrition among children; malnutrition is associated with poor cognitive development and low educational achievement, and the effects may extend to later life.

 

ECONOMY

Inflation can also have an impact on whether someone becomes food insecure. For example, in the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the increasing prices of rent, fuel, and groceries. As a result, some may need to adjust their budgets and prioritize their spending to make ends meet.

Rising food costs and economic crises can have a significant impact on food and nutrition security as these push the most vulnerable households further into poverty and weaken their ability to access adequate food.

According to one study, one-third of respondents with household incomes below $50,000 say rising inflation has made it so they can no longer afford groceries. The same is true for households with one or more children under the age of 18, 38% of which say they’re no longer able to afford groceries due to rising inflation.

 

EMPLOYMENT and INCOME

High unemployment rates among low-income populations make it more difficult to meet basic household food needs and therefore cause food insecurity.

But food insecurity can also occur in households that have regular employment income. An individual can work full-time and still not have enough income for their basic needs.

In Canada, in 2021, a family of four that earned below $49,106 yearly was considered low income.

Someone could argue that if two adults working full-time earn the minimum wage*, which is $15/hour in Ontario, they are making more than the low-income threshold. (I calculated two persons earning $15 for 37.5 hours per week times fifty-two weeks = $58,500)

Now consider this. Ontario has a Living wage network that calculates, yearly, what an individual needs to earn to meet their basic needs by region.

In the Niagara Region, where we are located, the current living wage** is $18.90/hour.

 

37.5 working hours per week

POVERTY LINE INCOME

MINIMUM WAGE – $15/hour

LIVING WAGE – $18.90/hour

LIVING WAGE  MINUS MINIMUM WAGE

Single adult $26,426 $29,250 $36,855 $7,605
Family of four $49,106 $58,500 $73,710 $15,210
-26%

If an individual is only earning a minimum wage, they are making 26% less than what their basic needs cost. What gets cut? Usually, the food.

 

*Minimum wage is the lowest amount an employer can legally pay.

**Living wage is the minimum income necessary for individuals to meet their basic needs.

 

HEALTH

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation states that “People who class themselves as having poor health are far less likely to remain in work than those with good health… When in employment, people reporting poor physical or mental health are more likely to move from permanent to temporary work or into a low-paid job from a better-paying job.”.

Poor health leads to minimal productivity.  Also, one’s mood is greatly affected by poor health, this can result in poor productivity, bad customer service, and a poor business reputation.

 

HOUSING

For low-income households, the burden of high housing costs is a chronic issue that reduces housing stability and increases the risk of food insecurity.

One of the primary drivers of food insecurity is the lack of affordable housing options for low-income families.  Without access to affordable housing, low-income families have no choice but to allocate the majority of their monthly income to their housing expenses.  This leaves very little for other essentials, like heat and hydro, transportation, medicine, and food.

For low-income individuals, the cost of housing is too high.  While shelter is a basic human right, in 2017, over 500,000 individuals are struggling to maintain a roof over their heads, along with other basic needs, across the province.

 

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation insecurity – A condition in which one is unable to regularly move from place to place in a safe and timely manner because one lacks the material, economic or social resources necessary for transportation.

Studies show that a lack of access to a vehicle or reliable transportation directly contributes to food insecurity.  Households without cars spend more time and money to travel to grocery stores.  Higher costs may cut the size of meals, increasing food insecurity.

 

According to the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health website, in our province:

  • 13% of households are food insecure. This translates to 1,700,000 people.
  • 1 in 6 children lives in a household that is food insecure
  • 59% of households receiving social assistance are food insecure.
  • 63% of food-insecure households have employment income.

 

Food insecurity takes a serious toll on people’s physical, mental and social health. Adults in food-insecure households are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as mental health conditions such as mood disorders, anxiety, and depression.  They also may not be able to afford prescription medication.  Children living in food-insecure households are more likely to have mental health conditions such as hyperactivity and inattention. Experiences of food insecurity during childhood have a serious and lasting impact on mental health leading to greater risk of depression, social anxiety, and suicidal thoughts as teenagers and young adults.

 

Food insecurity costs our healthcare system considerably. Adults living in food-insecure households have much higher healthcare costs than those living in food-secure households.

 

Average healthcare costs incurred over 12 months by Ontario adults by household food security status

What can we do?

Cultivating Hope Foundation’s mission is to reduce food insecurity at the core level by providing training, employment and other resources that will enable low-income individuals to obtain adequate employment to reduce or eliminate their reliance on social programs and assistance and live with food security.

 

For more information about us and how you can help, contact us at info@cultivatinghope.ca

 

Fact Sheets

Household Food Insecurity in Canada

 

 

 

 

 

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