More employed Ontarians relying on food banks

The Downtown Mission food bank on Ouellette Ave., Windsor. (File photo by Maureen Revait)

The number of Ontarians, including those with full-time work, using food banks across the province is on the rise, according to a concerning new report.

Feed Ontario, formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks, released its 2019 hunger report on Monday. The report which analyzes food bank usage and trends and provides recommendations, revealed 510,438 individuals accessed a food bank last year, visiting more than 3,059,000 times. That is an increase of 8,848 more people over the previous year.

Figures also show that despite the province’s low unemployment rate, the number of people with full and part-time jobs relying on Ontario food banks has gone up 27 per cent over the past three years.

“This tells us that, while these individuals are working in a full or part-time position, they have not been able to secure sufficient income to afford all of their basic necessities each month, like rent, heat, hydro, or food,” Carolyn Stewart, executive director of Feed Ontario, said in a statement.

A jump in precarious work, changes to Ontario’s labour laws, and insufficient worker and social assistance supports are all cited as key contributors to the growing trend.

“Ontario’s job market is changing. Not only are we seeing a rise in casual and contract employment, but we are seeing more adults having no choice but to work in temporary or minimum wage positions,” said Stewart. “Oftentimes, these positions do not provide consistent wages or work hours, and seldom provide employer health benefits or paid time off. This is reflected in Ontario’s food bank data, which indicates ‘low wages and/ or insufficient hours’ as one of the most common reasons for needing support.”

Nearly half of all minimum wage workers are over the age of 25, with one in three holding a post-secondary degree, the Feed Ontario report states. It goes on to note that the number of temporary positions in the province has increased by 31 per cent since 1998. More than 70 per cent of individuals accessing food banks have indicated their primary source of income comes from social assistance programs or government benefits.

The findings within the report have prompted Feed Ontario to call on the Ford government to make “significant” improvements to the province’s social assistance programs, including increases to social assistance rates, an inclusive definition of ‘disability’, and the development of a portable housing benefit.

“Feed Ontario believes that its vision of ending poverty and hunger is shared by all levels of government and that there has never been a greater need for collective action than there is today,” said Stewart. “Through improvements to Ontario’s social assistance programs and government benefits, investments in affordable housing, and the development of quality employment opportunities for Ontarians, we believe that we can reduce poverty while building a future where no one goes hungry.”

Of those accessing hunger-relief programs, more than 87 per cent live in rentals or social housing, 53 per cent are from single-person households, and 33 per cent are under the age of 18.