A new report by Feed Ontario reveals skyrocketing food bank use with a 64 percent increase in first-time visitors, and points to the lack of quality employment opportunities and disinvestments in essential social support programs as the drivers of this growth.
Feed Ontario released its 2022 Hunger Report today, revealing that nearly 600,000 people accessed emergency food support last year, visiting more than 4.3 million times. This is an increase of 15 percent and 42 percent respectively over pre-pandemic numbers from 2019, and the sixth consecutive year that food bank use has risen. The report recognizes the impact that high inflation has had on food bank use in Ontario but points to decades of insufficient investments in quality jobs, the provincial social safety net, and affordable housing as the primary drivers of this growth.
“In looking at longstanding income security trends, data shows that it is harder for someone to break the cycle of poverty today than it was thirty or more years ago,” says Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Feed Ontario. “Ontario’s once-strong employment sector and social safety net have been weakened by decades of cost saving measures that have put low-income families in increasingly more precarious positions.”
The 2022 Hunger Report details data that shows that a child born to the poorest Canadians in the 1980s is 22 percent more likely to remain in poverty as an adult than a child born in the same conditions in the 1960s. While there are several complex considerations that contribute to this outcome, the report identifies a steady growth in low-wage and precarious jobs, cuts to the provincial and federal social safety nets, and a disinvestment in affordable housing that put thousands of Ontario families in financially precarious positions, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Food banks are designed to provide emergency support,” said Stewart. “Today however, the demands on food banks are not limited to emergency response. We are seeing food banks become increasingly relied upon to help fill gaps in the social safety net and subsidize government policy changes, budget cuts, and inadequate social support programs.”
As detailed in the report, despite Ontario’s low unemployment rate, workers still struggle to make ends meet as the labour market has shifted from well paying, stable, unionized jobs to those that tend to be part-time, temporary, and low paying. While manufacturing jobs were once the bedrock of Ontario’s labour market, gig work is on the rise with nearly 1 in 10 workers in jobs that are considered independent contractors and operate outside the protection of the Employment Standards Act. The impact that low-quality jobs are having on Ontarians is reflected in provincial food bank data, which shows a 47 percent increase in people with employment accessing food banks since 2018.
In addition to the rise in precarious employment, the report points to the erosion of essential worker support benefits and an inadequate social safety net as longstanding contributors to food bank use in the province. As detailed in the report, Employment Insurance is not easily accessible to most unemployed Ontarians, with only 27 percent receiving benefits, and social assistance rates continue to fall far below poverty line, with two out of three people who access food banks being program recipients.
To address escalating food bank use, Feed Ontario is calling on the province to take immediate action by providing gig workers with the same employment protections as other sectors; increasing social assistance rates to a basic standard of living; making housing affordable by investing in new and renovated affordable housing initiatives; and including people with lived experience in the design and development of programs and policies.
“What is most concerning about this moment in time is the deepening cracks in our economic foundation that make it more difficult than ever for the lowest income households to weather a new storm,” says Stewart. “Food banks were designed to respond in emergencies. Without immediate actions, food banks may be unable to meet the demand in the province should the current pressures on the system continue.”