Report: Rate of Food Bank Use Among Single People Hits Record High
Nearly half of all visits are by single person households, driven by people with disabilities and those on pensions
TORONTO, ON – November 12, 2019 – The rate of food bank use has hit a record high among single person households, even as overall food bank use has stabilized. HungerCount 2019, an annual report released by Food Banks Canada that analyzes data from 4,934 food banks across Canada, revealed that single-person households now account for nearly half (48 per cent) of all food bank users, up considerably from 38 per cent in 2010.
To put this into perspective, single parent household use of food banks decreased from 27.5 per cent to just over 18 per cent of users in the same period.
Food Banks Canada CEO Chris Hatch argues that despite a decline in unemployment rates helping stabilize visits to food banks over the past year, the lack of an adequate social safety net for singles in Canada—particularly those with disabilities and seniors on pensions—makes it more challenging for them to deal with unexpected financial setbacks, illnesses or current labour trends shifting full-time work to more precarious employment.
“This is not the same face of hunger we’ve been seeing over the past decade. Single person households are the fastest growing groups of food bank users across Canada,” explained Hatch. “Of prime concern is the need for a better income security system to reduce food insecurity among this group, who also experience high rates of poor mental health. We fear the resulting stress on incomes and health will only continue to add to growing levels of poverty and the need for food banks.”
Policy recommendation: Make single, low-income adults a priority consideration in all future poverty reduction policy measures. This includes implementing a Basic Income approach to income security to address high levels of poverty among singles with no or limited access to employment.
Single-person households receiving provincial disability support or pensions as their primary source of income experience deeper levels of poverty and hunger.
On the rise is the percentage of food bank clients who receive their main source of income from either provincial disability support (14.4 per cent in 2010 vs. 17.3 per cent in 2019) or pensions (6.6 per cent in 2010 vs. 9.0 per cent in 2019). Provincial disability support and pension combined has increased from 21 per cent of all food bank clients in 2010 to 26.3 per cent in 2019.
Further, when averaging the maximum disability incomes of a single person on provincial social assistance for each province, disability social assistance benefits has declined by over 10 per cent compared to 30 years ago.
Dr. Michael Prince is a renowned political scientist and the Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria. His research covers social policy as it relates to disability policy, federal-provincial relations, and indigenous governance. According to Dr. Prince, “If further evidence was required to support the need for social policy reforms, this latest HungerCount report reveals just that. People receiving the disability portion of social assistance are finding it increasingly difficult to manage rising costs of living, which is why they need food banks in greater numbers.”
Policy recommendation: Create a new program for people with disabilities who are ill and unemployed and whose temporary Employment Insurance (EI) or disability benefits are about to run out, in addition to developing new mental health measures.
Rising housing costs and the lack of rent-geared-to-income housing units are driving the demand for food banks.
Canadians living in market rent housing have increased as a proportion of food bank visits versus those in social housing. In March 2019 alone, there have been 17,142 households in the rental market, 528 households in rooming houses, and 3,495 households in social housing who have accessed food banks across Canada.
|Market rent housing
|Social (rent-geared to income) housing
“Hunger is cruelly invisible and people who are hungry will rarely ask for help,” said Sylvain Charlebois, Senior Director Agri-Food Analytics Lab and professor in Food Distribution and Policy at Dalhousie University. “The fact is they shouldn’t have to make trade-offs between paying rent and eating nutritious food. We need reliable, effective social safety nets to help them. Food banks are at the forefront of understanding how to engage the human spirit, between those who need it and those who want to help.”
Policy recommendation: Immediately implement the planned Canada Housing Benefit so that Canadians struggling to afford rent can access this critical rental support as the rest of the National Housing Strategy takes effect.
The rate of increase of food bank use among seniors has been far outpacing all other age groups over the last three years.
Despite progress being made with financial supports for seniors, they remain more vulnerable to rising costs of rent and food due to being on fixed incomes and having greater health care needs. Canadians over the age of 65 accessing food banks have increased by nearly 30 per cent since 2016, while age groups under 30 have decreased or only minimally increased during the same time period.
Policy recommendation: In addition to immediate investments in affordable housing, which also impact seniors, implement a national pharmacare plan to cover the costs of prescription drugs so that all Canadians have access to the medications they need.
Where people are most at risk of food insecurity may surprise you.
Government policy makers and private and public partners will all be grappling with how best to respond to a projected rise in food bank use by the most vulnerable populations in Canada. Having comprehensive data at their hands is the first step in understanding how key indicators leave people at risk of poverty and hunger, and where this is being experienced across Canada. To see where the most vulnerable communities in Canada are, visit http://map.foodbankscanada.ca/.
About the HungerCount Survey
HungerCount was initiated in 1989, and is the only annual national research study of food banks and other food programs in Canada. Since 1997, data for the study has been collected every March. The information provided by the report is invaluable, forming the basis of many Food Banks Canada activities throughout the year. http://hungercount.foodbankscanada.ca/ #HungerCount2019
About Food Banks Canada
Food Banks Canada provides national leadership to relieve hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow in collaboration with the food bank network in Canada. We are a national charitable organization dedicated to helping Canadians living with food insecurity. We support a network of provincial associations, affiliate food banks, and food agencies that work at the community level to relieve hunger. Our work is focused on maximizing collective impact, strengthening local capacity, and reducing the need for food banks in order to help create a Canada where no one goes hungry. To learn more, visit www.foodbankscanada.ca.
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