Food banks in Canada have seen a significant increase in visits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report says, with the high cost of living and ongoing economic disruption threatening to create countless new customers in the cities. months to come.
The results are contained in Food Banks Canada’s new 2021 HungerCount report, which surveyed nearly all of Canada’s 4,750 food banks and community organizations. This is the first comprehensive look at the use of food banks across the country since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are seeing high food prices, we are seeing high house prices, we are seeing an anticipated government pullback, and we are seeing persistently high unemployment during the COVID pandemic,” said David Armor, CEO of Food Banks Canada .
“With all of these factors, we are seeing a very high increase in demand and food banks are preparing for a significant increase in the coming months.”
The report highlights how the pandemic has exacerbated hunger in Canada, and advocates are now calling for a major overhaul of the country’s social safety net to reduce poverty and food insecurity.
Tension particularly felt in large cities
The report says Canadians made 1.3 million food bank visits in March 2021, a 20.3% increase from March 2019, which is the largest increase since the economic recession of 2008. (Banks Food Canada says it consistently uses March for comparisons because it is a “non-exceptional month with no predictable patterns of high or low consumption.”)
Food banks in large cities like Toronto were particularly stressed, with more than a quarter seeing their use more than double from previous years.
Most people who visited did so due to unemployment linked to the pandemic, the report said, with people from racialized communities constituting a large proportion.
Meanwhile, he said food banks in smaller urban centers were more likely to see people with disabilities and the elderly looking for food.
“Much of the increase can be attributed to a greater number of people requiring more frequent visits to the food bank due to the combined impacts of low income and the rapidly rising cost of living,” the report.
Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Etobicoke, said Toronto food banks saw an even more dramatic increase in visitation than the national average, with 50% more people in need of support food than before the pandemic.
He said this is the first year that there will be more first-time food bank users in the city than regular users.
“This is the biggest and most unprecedented increase in food bank use we’ve seen in Toronto and across the country,” Hetherington said.
“There are a lot of new faces in Toronto food banks and it speaks to the community’s lack of resilience, the lack of affordable housing and the lack of decent jobs.
Food Banks Canada says government programs that provided income and housing assistance to people who lost their jobs or saw their hours cut when the pandemic hit were helpful in “flattening the curve” of food bank visits and probably prevented even more people from needing food bank services.
But most of these programs have now been phased out, are in the process of being phased out, or have been modified to provide more targeted support.
Improving social safety net, says CEO
Armor, CEO of Food Banks Canada, said governments should take this opportunity to improve existing social policies that target the root causes of food insecurity – primarily low incomes, unemployment, housing costs and poverty.
“Our social safety net is broken,” he said. “And as we come out of the pandemic, as we change our funding and change the focus of our government, we really need to build and modernize a better safety net. “
The report calls for the following actions to help reduce poverty and, with it, food insecurity:
- New support for low income tenants.
- Increase support for low-wage workers and the unemployed, primarily by modernizing the Employment Insurance (EI) program.
- Consider policies that would establish a “minimum income floor” for all workers.
- Increase supports for low-income single adults.
- Improve measures to reduce food insecurity in the North.