This piece was originally published in The Toronto Star. To read the full piece, click here.
I work at an organization that runs a food bank, and I believe emergency food services should not have to exist. While this may seem counterintuitive, the reality is it that food banks are not a sustainable solution to the cost-of-living crisis, or even to food insecurity.
Hunger is a very complex issue and cannot be solved solely by distributing food to those in need.
Thousands of great organizations across the country are trying urgently to address the effects of poor public-policy choices, but many issues related to poverty can only be addressed by additional income.
The more food banks that people depend on, the more governments can avoid responsibility for not setting up and maintaining social systems and policies that work for the people they serve.
In a G7 country, the fact that working people are accessing emergency housing, food, and clothing should be ringing alarm bells and should not be accepted as the norm.
While people on social assistance rates have been living in extreme poverty for years, inflation is pushing more and more Canadians into working poverty.
The phrase “working poor” refers to people and families who continue to work regularly, yet live in relative poverty because of their low wages and increased costs. People who are classified as “working poor” often have negative net worth and are unable to protect themselves from personal or financial emergencies or unexpected bills.
They are living paycheque to paycheque.
People across Canada who do precarious work, gig work, who work shifts, and families with children, tend to be at a higher risk of being part of the working poor.
A single person working full time at minimum wage should not be living in poverty, but, in most Canadian cities, that is not the case. In fact, the national broadcaster reported that, in Toronto, a single person working a full-time minimum wage job will spend 67 per cent of their income on rent alone, leaving little room for other necessities.
The best way to eliminate working poverty and food insecurity is by putting money back into the pockets of low-income Canadians, through policy decisions such as a universal basic income, living wages, increased social assistance rates, and subsidized housing.
Systemic solutions to poverty would have a transformational impact on improving the physical and mental health outcomes of our communities, without the outsized reliance on charities and food banks.
The need for food banks is a direct result of social safety nets failing, or not being there in the first place.
When The Stop Community Food Centre was launched in the 1980s, it never intended to last, but, 40 years later, we are needed more than ever.
Our small community food centre serves 80,000 meals and 10,000 food hampers annually, and we rely on cash donations from donors while doing our work with minimal government funding.
However, the root cause of food insecurity in our community cannot be addressed by one charity or, even, many organizations.
We need governments to step up and treat food access as a human right.
Written by our Director of Development and Communications, Maria Rio.
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