One-third of Ontario’s food bank users are new Canadians

Posted by admin on Nov 8th, 2007

The Canadian Press, Toronto. Thurs Nov 8.

TORONTO — Nearly one-third of people turning to Ontario’s food banks for their daily meals are new Canadians who are unable to find affordable housing and steady, well-paying jobs despite the province’s low employment rate, says a study conducted by the province’s food bank association.  The Ontario Hunger Report, to be released Thursday and obtained Wednesday by The Canadian Press, found almost 320,000 Ontario residents depend on food banks every month — the highest number of people served in the country and an increase of 14 per cent since 2001.  Almost one in three of those food-bank users are immigrants, the study found.

A lack of steady employment, reasonably priced housing and realistic social assistance payments mean children and the province’s disabled continue to rely on food-bank donations as well, said the study by the Ontario Association of Food Banks.  Although food-bank usage is highest in Toronto, the study shows hunger is becoming more prevalent in Ottawa, Hamilton, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor and Sudbury.

 “A lot of people are going to work hungry, they’re going to school hungry,” said Adam Spence, the association’s executive director. “It’s shocking, the level of hunger that exists.” A “staggering” number of food-bank users are new Canadians who are getting a tough introduction to the country, Spence said. Their professional credentials aren’t being recognized, and the poverty rate has increased from one in four new Canadians living in poverty in 1980 to one in three in 2000, he said.

“More often, they’re employed in service-sector or low-wage occupations,” Spence said. “They’re less able to collect and obtain assets like homes. The success story that we want to believe about Canadians coming to this country as a land of opportunity is not true.” Overall, Ontario residents are having a tough time putting food on the table because of the loss of well-paying jobs, dwindling affordable housing, rising energy prices and a lack of education, he said.

While the average family spends $142 a week on groceries, the average low-income family can spend only $72 a week, often on unhealthy but more affordable foods like wieners and french fries, the study found. Food banks are having difficulty keeping up with demand, leaving many feeling like someone “with their finger in a dike,” the report said. More than 20 per cent of Ontario food banks don’t have enough food to meet the needs in their communities, the study said.

 The provincial government must start addressing some of these root causes of poverty or Ontario residents will pay through the increased cost to the health-care system and the economy, Spence said. The governing Liberals are increasing the child-tax benefit and have appointed Deb Matthews, minister of children and youth services, to chair an anti-poverty cabinet committee.

But Spence said the government has to make an overarching commitment to tackle poverty by setting reduction targets next year and putting cash in place to reach those targets by 2009. “There is reason to hope,” he said. Madeleine Meilleur, minister of community and social services, said the report actually shows an improvement over last year, when 330,000 people used food banks each month.

The province has worked hard to increase social assistance rates, boost the child-tax benefit and put in place a plan to increase the minimum wage, she added. Ontario also has some additional federal money to help with the integration of immigrants, which should help reduce their dependence on food banks in the future, she said. “Although it’s sad to see that people still need to count on food banks for their food, it’s going in the right direction,” Meilleur said. “We will continue to address poverty.”

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said he has little faith in that pledge. The government has promised a lot but delivered little, he said. “Ontario has become the child poverty capital of Canada over the last four years,” he said. “That speaks volumes.” Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said if the Liberals are serious about addressing poverty, they should focus on strengthening the economy. “What will make the lot in life better for people who use food banks is knowing that they have a secure, lasting, well-paying job,” he said.

“It speaks to the incredible inaction of (Premier Dalton) McGuinty and his government that they’re not doing everything they could be doing to secure the Ontario economy.”

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