On Monday, Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank released its annual report, “Who’s Hungry,” reporting a rise in those aged 45 years and older who used their services.
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“It would likely be an increase in the tens of thousands,” said Richard Matern, senior research manager at the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Matern said that the rise isn’t a surprise when you look at the rise of those using disability benefits. Those people are unable to enter the workforce, depending largely on income from the government. But with rising food costs and the inability to find adequate and affordable housing, they’re forced to turn to food banks.
As to why they’re seeing an increase, Matern said that it’s not necessarily due to an aging population.
For those aged 45 and up, use of the food bank went from 26 per cent to 35 per cent. “And that’s a much faster rate of increase then the general population.”
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Conversely, children using the food bank dropped from 35 per cent in 2006 to 29 per cent.
Living on the edge
With the rising cost of food, some people who may have been just managing to scrape by have been forced to turn to outside sources of food.
Then there’s the rising cost of housing. Those who live on social assistance may not be receiving enough money to pay for both food and housing. Matern cites those with disabilities — which account for 70 per cent of those who use the Daily Bread Food Bank.
In 1993, people with disabilities received assistance through the Family Benefits program, which was $930 a month. Today, disability insurance is $1,128.
“Housing doesn’t cost what it did in 1993, and food certainly doesn’t cost what it did in 1993,” said Matern.
Matern would like to see a bigger transformation of the income security system from the federal government that could support those who have lost their jobs and are having difficulty entering the workforce, or perhaps those who are unable to find employment due to their disability.
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A short-term solution would be having more affordable housing. Matern said that their clients spend upwards of 70 per cent on housing, which leaves little for anything else. Ontario’s provincial government has proposed a portable housing benefit which would help offset the cost of housing and thereby making it possible for someone to afford food.
Challenges in Calgary
The Calgary Food Bank has found itself in a similar situation. James McAra, CEO of the organization said that those using the food bank over the age of 45 has risen to 24 per cent over the past five years.
And, just like in Toronto, the cost of living is definitely one of the root causes for the increase, along with soaring food prices.
But in the case of Calgary, the city has found itself with an influx of people looking to cash in on what was a strong economy who now may have found themselves unemployed after a weakened economy.
“The latest statistics suggest that two-thirds of your paycheque is going to go to your accommodation,” McAra said of those living in Calgary.
“Food is the easiest to change,” McAra said. “I can’t change my rent, I can’t change my utilities. I’ve got certain debts that are fixed … And the only thing I can give up on is, okay, yeah, I’ll skip a meal.”
McAra would like to see a food policy in Canada. “We talk about food. We allude to demands on food banks as almost the litmus test for vitality in Canada. But then the governments aren’t engaged with the food banks … to say how can we influence this?”
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The food bank is seeing a rise unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.
“We have the highest demand that we’ve experienced in the history, that we have recorded, back to about 1999,” McAra said.
“We see about 3,000 [a month], now we’re seeing 5,000.”
It’s the rate of increase that is shocking. McAra said that this has outpaced even the floods and fires that have occurred in the city.
The good news is that people are still deeply generous. Just over the weekend they had a food drive, raising 450,000 lbs of food, which pleases McAra.
“We’re the last line of defence,” McAra said.