Food insecurity climbs for Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland, Haliburton counties: report

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Food insecurity climbs in Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland and Haliburton counties
Food insecurity continues to be a growing issue in the region. The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has released a new report detailing the impact locally as many families fall short of making ends meet. Tricia Mason has the story – May 22, 2024

A new report on food insecurity shows low-income families in Kawartha Lakes, Northumberland and Haliburton counties are struggling to pay for basic necessities.

Released by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR), the “Addressing Food Insecurity and Poverty” report examines food insecurity within its jurisdiction.

The report notes that in 2020, the following percentages of households were considered low-income and struggled to pay for rent, bills and healthy food (the data excludes those unhoused and First Nation communities):

  • 8.7 per cent of households in Northumberland County (population of 89,365 based on the 2021 census)
  • 10.2 per cent of households in Kawartha Lakes (population of 79,247 as of 2021)
  • 12.9 per cent of households in Haliburton County (population of 20,571 as of 2021)

“When families don’t make enough money to buy food, they are food insecure,” said Sarah Tsang, HKPR’s registered dietitian and health equity co-ordinator. “These families are forced to make hard decisions like if they will buy healthy foods or pay for other basics like rent and utilities.”

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The HKPR District Area’s food insecurity rate was at 16.7 per cent in 2021-22, up from 16.2 per cent for 2019-20, according to the Canadian Income Survey.

Statistics Canada in April revealed that 8.7 million Canadians reported some form of food insecurity.

Healthy eating

Each year the public health unit surveys the price of various food items from local grocery stores for its “Nutritious Food Basket” (NFB), a survey tool to measure the cost of basic healthy eating based on current national nutrition recommendations and average food purchasing patterns.

The report notes that in 2023, a HKPR district family of four (two adults, two children) with a median monthly income of $9,290 would need to spend 13 per cent of the income (or $1,184) for healthy food.

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The health unit notes in some scenarios — such as those relying on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) — the expenses exceed their income, meaning there is no more money for other basic needs such as medications, utilities, phone and internet.

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For example, the report says a single person on ODSP has a monthly income of $1,372. The average monthly rent ranges from $1,450 to $1,690 across the HKPR district. The cost of the NFB is at $425 (or approximately 31 per cent).  That leaves the individual facing a deficit between $489 and $739 depending on where they live.


The report notes that excluding the family earning median income, the cost of rent exceeds 30 per cent of the household income, the report notes.

“In the HKPR district area, nearly two-fifths (or 4o per cent) of tenant households spend more than 30 per cent on housing,” the report states.

The health unit notes that apartments are difficult to obtain within its jurisdiction and rent-geared-to-income units have long wait-lists, including 1,000 households in Northumberland County (an average wait time of 10 years) and 2,300 households in Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County (an average wait time of seven years).

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“Unlike households with higher incomes, households struggling with a limited income already spend a higher percentage of their budget on basic needs such as rent and food,” the report states.

“These low-income households would have little to no financial reserves such as savings or property assets to buffer increases in expenses. The cost of food is often sacrificed over the need to stay housed.”

Income supports

The report is also critical of ODSP, stating incomes are “still too low,” despite increasing by five per cent in September 2022 and 6.5 per cent in July 2023. The report also says the last increase to OW was in 2018, arguing rates “have not kept pace with inflation and cannot meet the basic costs of living.”

There are more than 9,100 recipients of OW and ODSP combined within the HKPR district, including:

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  • Northumberland County: an average of 952 OW cases and 2,566 ODSP cases
  • Kawartha Lakes: an average of 2,315 OW cases and 2,217 ODSP cases
  • Haliburton County: an average of 515 OW cases and 571 ODSP cases

The report also says the 2023 living wage — minimum needed to pay for the basic necessities — for the HKPR district is $20.60 per hour, versus the provincial minimum wage of $16.55 per hour.

“Minimum wage does not offer enough money to pay rent, buy groceries, and support a family,” the report states. “Instead, we need to raise income to a living wage. A living wage would allow households to pay for basic needs and to provide for a suitable quality of life.”

The report recommends residents, municipal leaders and community partners “speak up” for income-based solutions, and more support programs and services to “make life more affordable” and to support companies that respect employees’ health and dignity.

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“Food insecurity is a serious social and public health problem,” Tsang said. “In order to address food insecurity, we need income-based solutions that are long term and that focus on poverty reduction such as adequate incomes, improving employment standards, increasing social assistance rates and providing basic income guarantee.”

— more to come

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