If Ontario wants to reduce food bank use, it needs to raise income support, the report warns

Governments need to continue to raise the minimum wage and social support benefits in the face of inflation and rent increases if they are to prevent food bank spending from rising, researchers and advocates warn.

According to a research paper released Wednesday by University of Calgary researchers on Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank visits from January 2014 to March 2020, consumption rose 53 percent and correlated most strongly with rising rents and food prices.

“Payments do not keep up with inflation,” said Ron Kneebone, the scientific director of social policy and health research at the University of Calgary, who co-authored the report.

“You’re going to see more and more people having to rely on food banks to make ends meet.”

The report comes amid a sharp rise in the use of GTA food banks since the start of the pandemic. Its results show that visits are affected by changes – or lack thereof – in income support rates, with the largest impact being the amount of money users receive under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Daily Bread says about 51 percent of their customers report that they have a disability or health condition that is expected to last a year or more. About one in four Daily Breads users reports ODSP as their primary source of revenue.

The Daily Bread, which largely relies on charitable donations of money and food and the work of volunteers, says the results of the survey suggest:

  • An increase of $ 30 in average rent would lead to 73,776 more visits to food banks annually in Toronto and 375,000 more visits to Ontario.
  • A $ 1 increase in the minimum wage would lead to 37,000 fewer visits to food banks annually in Toronto and 188,000 fewer visits to Ontario.
  • An increase of $ 15 per month in ODSP would be associated with 54,000 fewer visits to food banks annually in Toronto and 273,000 fewer visits to Ontario.

Kneebone says the government needs social programs to keep pace with the inflation rate, especially if more people turn to programs like ODSP in the coming years.

“There’s an easy solution to this – you need to increase their levels of income support,” Kneebone said.

‘A spiral situation’

Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread, says the report is the organization’s first look at systemic policies that could affect the number of visits to the food bank.

“We’ve got all the food out for every single person who needs it,” Hetherington said. “But let’s start thinking about the systems that result in so many people having to turn to the daily bread.”

Hetherington says before the pandemic, the food bank saw about 55,000 visitors each month. But this February alone, it had about 130,000 visits. Like consumers trying to cope with inflation in supermarkets, the organization is also juggling the rise in food prices and reduced contributions from donors who may have a harder time coping with themselves.

“It’s going to be a bit of a spiral situation.”

Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank, says the report provides a plan for the government on how to reduce people’s dependence on food banks. (Talia Ricci / CBC)

Hetherington worries that the situation will worsen if the results are not used to inform government policy.

“What we do is we give a gift to the government and we say, ‘Okay, if you’re worried, if you’re basically worried that someone has to go to a charity to survive in order to survive, then here’s what it will cost to be able to lessen that challenge. ‘”

CBC News asked the Ontario Ministry of Children, Society and Social Services what it is doing to raise income support relative to inflation. Ministry of Communications Director Krystle Caputo responded in an email that it has already invested billions in organizations in its Social Services Relief Fund and millions in Feed Ontario and student nutrition programs.

“We remain committed to innovative ways to support ontarians receiving social assistance and ministers [Merrilee] Fullerton will discuss the acceleration of the Canadian disability benefit at a follow-up meeting with our federal counterparts shortly. “

‘It has never been enough’

People at ODSP struggled to make ends meet long before COVID-19 arrived, and the pandemic has only strengthened calls for higher prices, says Kyle Vose, the agency’s co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition, a group advocating for people with disabilities. . in Ontario.

“It’s never been enough,” Vose said.

Despite rising inflation and doubling the growth of ODSP cases over the past decade, ODSP rates have not increased since 2018, according to reports from the Income Security Advocacy Center, a Toronto-based legal clinic working to resolve problems related to income security and poverty in Ontario.

The maximum monthly payment for a single person is $ 672 for basic needs and $ 497 for shelter, for a total of $ 1,169. By comparison, the most a single person could receive from ODSP in 2012 was $ 1,064, according to the center.

While food banks help fill the gap, there are often limits to how many times people can use them a month and who can access them outside the city, Vose says.

Kyle Vose is the agency’s co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition and an engagement coordinator with the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. (Talia Ricci / CBC)

Vose says the report shows that forcing people with disabilities to trust donations and the goodwill of others is not the answer.

“The government expects us to be dependent on charity,” Vose said.

“That’s not true. Just because you’re a person with a disability does not mean you deserve less than that.”

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