The Feed Ontario (FO) 2023 Hunger Report (formerly known as the Ontario Association of Food Banks) was released this week. The report is a well-organized, user-friendly tool to access statistics on food bank use. The 2023 report confirmed that hunger is not just a big-city problem. It has just as firm a grip on smaller, rural and Northern communities like ours.
Here are some rather alarming and worrisome statistics for Ontario and Algoma-Manitoulin.
- Between April 1, 2022, and March 31, 2023, more than 800,000 Ontarians reached out to emergency food banks for support, with total visits climbing to over 5.9 million, a significant 36% increase from the previous year.
- Food banks in Algoma-Manitoulin served 3661 households, totalling 14,491 visits. Sadly, 34 percent of those visits were made by hungry children.
- In Algoma-Manitoulin, there are 1,078 people whose reported income source is Ontario Works (OW). 34 percent of food bank clients rely on OW, who have no choice but to try to scape by on a meagre $733.
- In this riding, 2193 recipients count on ODSP’s monthly support of $1,308. Anyone trying to run a household in this region knows neither sum is enough to meet even basic needs.
- 10 percent of Ontario residents are said to live in poverty and 11.5 percent of our children. Unfortunately for residents of Algoma-Manitoulin, the news is worse. The poverty rate is listed at 16 percent, and 19 percent of children live in poverty.
The federal government is under pressure to do something to curb rampant inflation. Public opinion is that inflation is the leading cause of consumer pain. With citizens breathing down their necks, the Trudeau Government is barking at the heels of big-name grocery chains with threats of punitive taxation and penalties if they don’t get their prices under control.
There is no doubt that rampant inflation rates are making it difficult for families and seniors to make ends meet month after month. However, inflation is by no means the root cause of our economic pain. The truth is that low wages and employment have a more significant impact than inflation. But Premier Ford does not want Ontarians to see it this way. It is much more convenient for Mr. Ford to have people point the accusatory finger at the federal government to deflect political blame from his government. (Readers of last week’s column may recall former United States Vice President and Senator Hubert Humphrey’s quote, “To err is human; to blame someone else is politics.”)
Statistics show that unemployment is not an issue here in Ontario, with a comparatively low rate of just 6.2 percent. This is actually LOWER than the long-term average rate of 7.38 percent. And it is definitely lower than in the 1960s and 70s when economists and policymakers believed they could lower unemployment through higher inflation. Lack of employment is not the problem.
In truth, Ontarians ARE working – some even working on multiple jobs. The FO report indicated that 1 in 6 food bank patrons list their primary income source as employment wages. FO CEO Carolyn Stewart stated, “While we are seeing low unemployment rates across the province, working Ontarians are having trouble earning enough income to afford today’s cost of living. As a result, more working families than ever before are turning to food banks for help.”
People are employed and are getting hours, sometimes even more than is healthy for their family, such as when both adults are at work or in a single parent’s case. If this is true, how can our current crisis be explained?
The primary issue is low wages. People are not being paid a living wage or for the value of their work. Victoria Wells wrote in the November 30, 2022 edition of the Financial Post, “High-paying, unionized manufacturing jobs have given way to lower-paying, part-time or temporary ones, such as gig work.”
Readers will recall that after Doug Ford was first elected, he quickly cancelled the 2019 scheduled increase in the minimum wage from $14 to $15. It stayed down until it finally rose to $16.50 in October 2023. So, it is a Ford government policy that is keeping worker’s wages artificially low. And to date, Ontario has never recovered from Premier Ford’s multi-year delays.
The Conservative government is holding Ontario workers’ wages down. The government knows their wage and employment policies are letting Ontarians down miserably. No matter how hard Ontarians work or how many hours they work every week, many thousands just can’t bring home a cheque that will help them make ends meet and stave off true hunger.
And that, my friends, is something Premier Ford can rectify. Ontario workers should be paid wages that will not see them getting further and further behind the economic eight ball, month after month, year after year. And everyone should be entitled to sick days. Staying home helps to prevent the spreading of viruses and respects the well-being of coworkers and customers. But the reality is that workers just can’t afford to lose a day’s pay for sickness.
Food banks were never intended to be a long-term food supply for Ontario families and seniors. They are primarily staffed by volunteers and are supported by generous donations of non-perishable goods or money from caring people and businesses in the community. Honestly, the current rate of use is just not sustainable.
But for now, put aside the politics and theory. That can wait for another day. All of us can make a difference today in the homes of people in our community. The children down the street should not be heading off to school hungry, and the senior next door should not have to go to bed hungry, cold or wanting. We can’t give all the time. But if we commit to doing what we can as often as possible, we can make a real difference in the lives of people we know. Donating a jar of peanut butter, a box of cereal, or a package of pasta is excellent. It is easier still to make a monetary donation so the food bank can take inventory of what is needed and take advantage of bulk buying and deals from food suppliers.
Remember, if we each give a little, we all give a lot. Please do your best to give generously to our food banks this holiday season.
As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at [email protected] or by phone Toll-free at 1-800-831-1899.
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