Feed Ontario, formerly the Ontario Association of Food Banks, released its 2019 Hunger Report today, revealing that 510,438 individuals accessed a food bank last year, visiting more than 3,059,000 times. This report finds that, despite the province’s low unemployment rate, Ontario’s food banks continue to see increasingly high levels of use, and that there is an emerging trend in the number of individuals with employment income that require the support of a food bank to make ends meet.
“Over the last three years, Ontario’s food banks have seen a 27 percent increase in the number of adults with employment income accessing their services,” says Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director of Feed Ontario. “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.”
The 2019 Hunger Report identifies the rise in precarious work, changes to Ontario’s labour laws, and insufficient support provided through worker and social assistance programs as key contributors to this emerging trend. Further, the report highlights changing demographics in Ontario’s workforce citing that adults over 25 years of age now hold nearly half of all minimum wage positions in the province, with 1 in 3 having a post-secondary education.
“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,” says 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.”
In addition to the changing job market, the 2019 Hunger Report argues that changes to worker programs like WSIB and Employment Insurance (EI) have made it increasingly more difficult for injured workers or the recently unemployed to access support. As a result, many Ontarians have no choice but to move onto Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program, two programs that were not intended for this purpose and that provide financial support that falls significantly below the poverty line, with a respective income of only $8,796 and $14,028 per year.
“When programs for recently unemployed or injured workers are not accessible, it leaves little choice but to turn to social assistance for support,” says Stewart. “The unfortunate reality is, however, that the support provided by these programs falls well below what is needed for a basic standard of living and often results in hard working adults and families falling into poverty.”
Ontario’s food banks are working hard to respond to the increasing and changing demand for their services. In addition to emergency food support, many food banks provide job fairs and resume writing workshops, interview prep, assistance with filing income taxes or applying for support programs, child care, housing help, and accredited training programs.
Provincially, Feed Ontario is calling on the provincial government to make significant improvements to Ontario’s social assistance programs, including increases to social assistance rates, an inclusive definition of ‘disability’ under the Ontario Disability Support Program, 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,” says 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.”
2019 Hunger Report Highlights and Trends
Food Bank Use Data
• 510,438 adults, children, and seniors accessed food banks across Ontario between April
• 1st, 2018 – March 31st, 2019, an increase of 8,848 people over the previous year
• Ontario’s food banks were visited over 3,059,000 times throughout the year, an increase of 4.2 percent over the previous year.
• Ontario’s food banks have seen a 27 percent increase in the proportion of people with employment income accessing their services over the last three years
• 71 percent of households that access food banks indicate social assistance programs or government benefits as their primary source of income
• 53 percent of households served by food banks identified as single-person households
• 87 percent of food bank visitors were rental or social housing tenants
• 33 percent of food bank visitors were children under 18 years of age
Ontario’s Changing Workforce
• 48 percent of minimum wage workers are 25 years or older, with 1 in 3 holding a post-secondary degree
• Since 1998, there has been a 31 percent increase in the proportion of workers in temporary positions
• In Oakville, a minimum wage worker would need to work 78 hours per week to afford the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment alone.
• Changes to Ontario’s Labours Laws have included the elimination of paid sick days, the option to pay reduced wages to part-time, temporary, and casual workers
• Only 28 percent of unemployed Ontarians are receiving Employment Insurance, which provides only 55 percent of an individual’s former pay
• 46 percent of injured workers with permanent impairments end up living in poverty five years after their accident
How Food Banks Help
• Food banks offer fresh, healthy food and a diverse range of programs, depending on the community. In Ontario, these programs include accredited training programs, resume writing workshops and job fairs, rental and housing support, tax clinics and assistance with government forms, meal deliveries and mobile services for those that cannot access the food bank, community cafes, and workshops.