Ontario Hunger Report: 1 in 10 have insufficient income to survive - Simcoe/Muskoka: 1 in 8

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ONTARIO - Feed Ontario has released its 2019 Hunger Report and the numbers are frightening for families living in this province and getting worse with each passing year.

Feed Ontario (formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks) is a network of 130 direct member food banks and over 1,100 affiliate hunger- relief agencies that are united in their work to address and prevent hunger and poverty.

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The report begins with the staggering fact that there are now 1.4 million people living below the poverty line, including 213,624 children, in the province. This means that 1 in every 10 Ontarians has insufficient income to afford a modest, basic standard of living, including: a nutritious diet, clothing and footwear, shelter with electricity, heat, and water, and transportation.

By the numbers;

- 510,438 people accessed a food bank last year alone, an increase of 8,848 people over the previous year

- These individuals visited more than 3 million times throughout the year, an increase of 4 percent over the previous year

- Over the last three years, there has been a 27 percent increase in the proportion of adults with employment income accessing Ontario’s food banks

- Nearly half of all minimum wage workers are 25 years or older, more than one-third hold a post- secondary degree, and almost half are working full-time.

Feed Ontario believes that the increasing numbers are a result of a number of changes to Ontario’s workforce, including: changes to types of jobs available to working-age adults, changes to Ontario’s labour laws, and changes to Ontario’s social assistance and worker support programs.

In July 2019, Feed Ontario released a map that revealed hunger and food bank use exist in every electoral riding across the province. Food insecurity is an issue that crosses all party lines and requires committed action by all levels of government.

From 2018 to 2019 the monthly cost to feed a family of four increased by about 8 percent. Over a five year period, the increase was about 14 percent.

As the cost of food increases so does the cost of housing

The report states that the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Ontario is $1,105 per month; however, a full-time, minimum wage worker who earns $14 per hour earns only $2,100 per month before taxes. While the worker may be able to pay for rent each month, this expense alone occupies 53 percent of their total before tax monthly income. Housing is considered affordable when it occupies no more than 30 percent of a household’s total income. When an individual is spending 53 percent of their income on housing, as in this example, there is very little left for all other necessities.

When looking at Ontario’s food bank data, more than 87 percent of those that require the support of hunger-relief agencies are rental or social housing tenants who spend nearly 70 percent of their monthly income on housing costs alone. Further, the example above is only reflective of circumstances where an apartment can be found for that price. In Muskoka, for example, where the average one-bedroom apartment is $1,310 per month, a minimum wage worker would need to work 78 hours per week to afford this expense alone.

In Muskoka stats from the Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit are even bleaker where 70,000, that's 1 in 8, are struggling with food insecurity.

Muskoka by the Numbers:

The Simcoe Muskoka Health Unit recommends the following policy changes;

- increase social assistance rates to match real living costs, indexed to inflation;

- support fair workplaces and good jobs with regular hours and benefits;

- increase minimum wage; and

- provide a basic income for all Ontarians

Ontario Feed recommendations for change mirror in context those of the Muskoka health unit.

- Close the gap between social assistance rates and Ontario’s Market Basket Measure: The insufficient support provided by Ontario’s social assistance programs and government benefits often perpetuate poverty and makes it even more difficult for individuals and families to break the cycle.

- Retain the current definition of disability under the Ontario Disability Support Program: Restrictive reforms limiting access to ODSP will push people with disabilities into deeper poverty, increase stress, lead to worse health outcomes and possible homelessness.

- Invest in affordable housing and a portable housing benefit: With over 87 percent of Ontario’s food bank clients being rental or social housing tenants, affordable housing options are essential to addressing poverty.

If you want to get involved in addressing food insecurity you can start by sharing articles such as this one outlining the stats.

You can also contact your local MP or MPP to express your concerns about household food insecurity in your community; and by writing a letter to the Prime Minister and all federal party leaders letting them know you support income solutions so families can put food on the table.

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