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Everyone has the basic right to food in Canada, yet 4 million Canadians, including 1.6 million Ontarians, are food insecure. Income solutions such as a basic income guarantee, jobs with livable wages and benefits, and social assistance rates that reflect true costs of living are needed so that everyone is able to buy enough food. 


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Click to send this Open Letter to the four federal political party leaders

 

Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau  justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

Hon. Andrew Scheer, Leader of the Opposition and the Conservative Party andrew.scheer@parl.gc.ca 

Yves-François Blanchet, Leader of the Bloc Québécois  Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca 

Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the New Democratic Party Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca 

Jo-Ann Roberts, Interim Leader of the Green Party leader@greenparty.ca 


Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Mr. Scheer, M. Blanchet, Mr. Singh and Ms. Roberts,

I am writing to you about a serious public health problem – household food insecurity (HFI). HFI is not having enough money for food. It is rooted in inadequate and insecure incomes. This problem has unquestionably become worse with the COVID-19 pandemic

The number of Canadians who didn’t have enough money to put food on their tables in 2017-2018 is estimated to be 4.4 million (12.7% of households) – higher than any previous national estimatei.   In addition to deteriorated circumstances for many of these people, now even more Canadians are experiencing HFI resulting from widespread work stoppages and job losses associated with the pandemic. HFI is a highly sensitive indicator of an extreme level of material deprivation that negatively impacts people’s physical, mental, and social well-being and life expectancy. 

I commend the Canadian government for swiftly implementing income-based responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). These programs and other economic supportsii are offering relief from financial difficulties for many Canadians, allowing them to pay the rent and put food on the table. However, there are some groups that have been left highly vulnerable to HFI.

Canadians receiving social assistance represented about 15% of those experiencing HFI in 2017-2018.i Because their incomes are so low ($733/month for Ontario Works), social assistance recipients are most likely to experience the most severe form of HFI – actually going without food because of a lack of money. With current disruptions in food accessibility due to the pandemic and increases to food pricesiii forecasted before the pandemic without commensurate increases to benefit rates, a rise in the prevalence of severe HFI can be expected.

The largest segment of Canadians experiencing HFI in 2017-2018 (65%) reported employment as their primary source of income.i The high prevalence of HFI among those in the workforce is a function of precarious and low-paying jobs and multi-person households with a single income-earner. With the unprecedented loss of jobs due to COVID-19, many more people will be struggling with significantly less income. While the $2000/month provided by CERB may be adequate for a single person sharing rent with others, for example, it is not enough to pay for monthly housing and food costs for a family of four with a single-income earner. 

Food-based responses to HFI have also been rolled out during the pandemic, including a $100M federal investment in food banks and other types of charitable food distribution systems.ii However, food charity has always been an inadequate and inefficient response to HFI. Before COVID-19, only about 25% of people experiencing HFI in Canada used food banks.iv Those struggling to afford enough to eat are also struggling to pay the rent and other expenses, so while being offered a few bags of food may help in the short-term, it does not solve long-term household financial constraints. HFI is not a food problem, it is an income problem.v  Governments investing in charitable food systems to serve those who do not have money to access food in the most dignified means is morally, legally and politically unjust.vi

While it is hoped that the economic drain of the COVID-19 pandemic will be short-lived for many Canadian households, recovery will take longer for others. Many will be unable to make up lost income, and some will be pushed into permanent unemployment and bankruptcy. Persistent poverty is a significant problem in Canada and so too, is the economic insecurity of those who became poor on a moment’s notice due to the pandemic. People without enough resources to meet modest needs with dignity require a secure, adequate and predictable income in the long-term − an insurance policy to protect against the risk of poverty and loss.vii Now is the time for Canada to plan and deliver a robust basic income guarantee that protects working-age citizens from falling below an income floor that is adequate to meet basic needs. "People who have money…have the opportunity to spend that money however they think best, and people always know better than bureaucrats or charities what their families need most.”vii

In 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimatedviii that a basic income for all Canadians, based on the Ontario Basic Income model, would cost approximately $76B. However, when immediate cost savings are removed, such as social assistance costs and GST rebates, the net cost would be $44B. This net cost is much less than the cost of poverty in Canada. A basic income guarantee for all would also align well with the pillars of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy as it would help to foster dignity, opportunity and security for all recipients.

I ask that you take immediate action to enact legislation for a basic income guarantee as an effective long-term response to the problem of persistent poverty and household food insecurity as well as shorter-term consequences of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sincerely,

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Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Mr. Scheer, M. Blanchet, Mr. Singh and Ms. Roberts,

I am writing to you about a serious public health problem – household food insecurity (HFI). HFI is not having enough money for food. It is rooted in inadequate and insecure incomes. This problem has unquestionably become worse with the COVID-19 pandemic

The number of Canadians who didn’t have enough money to put food on their tables in 2017-2018 is estimated to be 4.4 million (12.7% of households) – higher than any previous national estimatei.   In addition to deteriorated circumstances for many of these people, now even more Canadians are experiencing HFI resulting from widespread work stoppages and job losses associated with the pandemic. HFI is a highly sensitive indicator of an extreme level of material deprivation that negatively impacts people’s physical, mental, and social well-being and life expectancy. 

I commend the Canadian government for swiftly implementing income-based responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). These programs and other economic supportsii are offering relief from financial difficulties for many Canadians, allowing them to pay the rent and put food on the table. However, there are some groups that have been left highly vulnerable to HFI.

Canadians receiving social assistance represented about 15% of those experiencing HFI in 2017-2018.i Because their incomes are so low ($733/month for Ontario Works), social assistance recipients are most likely to experience the most severe form of HFI – actually going without food because of a lack of money. With current disruptions in food accessibility due to the pandemic and increases to food pricesiii forecasted before the pandemic without commensurate increases to benefit rates, a rise in the prevalence of severe HFI can be expected.

The largest segment of Canadians experiencing HFI in 2017-2018 (65%) reported employment as their primary source of income.i The high prevalence of HFI among those in the workforce is a function of precarious and low-paying jobs and multi-person households with a single income-earner. With the unprecedented loss of jobs due to COVID-19, many more people will be struggling with significantly less income. While the $2000/month provided by CERB may be adequate for a single person sharing rent with others, for example, it is not enough to pay for monthly housing and food costs for a family of four with a single-income earner. 

Food-based responses to HFI have also been rolled out during the pandemic, including a $100M federal investment in food banks and other types of charitable food distribution systems.ii However, food charity has always been an inadequate and inefficient response to HFI. Before COVID-19, only about 25% of people experiencing HFI in Canada used food banks.iv Those struggling to afford enough to eat are also struggling to pay the rent and other expenses, so while being offered a few bags of food may help in the short-term, it does not solve long-term household financial constraints. HFI is not a food problem, it is an income problem.v  Governments investing in charitable food systems to serve those who do not have money to access food in the most dignified means is morally, legally and politically unjust.vi

While it is hoped that the economic drain of the COVID-19 pandemic will be short-lived for many Canadian households, recovery will take longer for others. Many will be unable to make up lost income, and some will be pushed into permanent unemployment and bankruptcy. Persistent poverty is a significant problem in Canada and so too, is the economic insecurity of those who became poor on a moment’s notice due to the pandemic. People without enough resources to meet modest needs with dignity require a secure, adequate and predictable income in the long-term − an insurance policy to protect against the risk of poverty and loss.vii Now is the time for Canada to plan and deliver a robust basic income guarantee that protects working-age citizens from falling below an income floor that is adequate to meet basic needs. "People who have money…have the opportunity to spend that money however they think best, and people always know better than bureaucrats or charities what their families need most.”vii

In 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimatedviii that a basic income for all Canadians, based on the Ontario Basic Income model, would cost approximately $76B. However, when immediate cost savings are removed, such as social assistance costs and GST rebates, the net cost would be $44B. This net cost is much less than the cost of poverty in Canada. A basic income guarantee for all would also align well with the pillars of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy as it would help to foster dignity, opportunity and security for all recipients.

I ask that you take immediate action to enact legislation for a basic income guarantee as an effective long-term response to the problem of persistent poverty and household food insecurity as well as shorter-term consequences of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

References:

 

Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Toronto, ON: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF); 2020 [cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://proof.utoronto.ca/.

 ii Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan [webpage online]. Ottawa: Government of Canada [updated 2020 April 24 cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html

iii Charlebois S, Somogyi S, McGuinty E et al. Canada’s Food Price Report 10th Edition 2020. Available from: https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/sites/agri-food/Canada%20Food%20Price%20Report%20Eng%202020.pdf. 

iv Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (formerly Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health). Position Statement on Responses to Food Insecurity. November 2015. Available from: https://www.odph.ca/upload/membership/document/2016-02/position-statement-2015-final.pdf.

v Power E, Belyea S, Collins P. "It's not a food issue; it's an income issue”: Using Nutritious Food Basket costing for health equity advocacy. Can J Pub Health, 2019;110:294-302. Available from: https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-019-00185-5.

vi Riches G. Food bank nations: Poverty, corporate charity and the right to food. 1st ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2018.

vii Forget E. Basic income for Canadians – The key to a healthier, happier, more secure life for all. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers; 2018.

viiiOffice of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Costing a National Guaranteed Basic Income Using the Ontario Basic Income Model.  Ottawa, ON; April 2018 [cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2018/Basic%20Income/Basic_Income_Costing_EN.pdf.
 

 

 

Sincerely,

Dear Ms. May, Mr, Scheer, Mr. Singh, Mr. Trudeau

Food insecurity is inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. Food insecurity is a serious problem that affects all of Canada; in Ontario, 1 in 8 or about 12% of households experience food insecurity. Nowhere in Canada does the provincial or territorial household rate of food insecurity fall below 10% and the proportion is an alarming 47% in Nunavut. Far too many Canadians cannot afford to pay the rent, bills AND put enough food on the table.

Food insecurity negatively impacts health, mental well-being, and the ability to lead productive lives. It is shameful that so many people are living in poverty and struggling to put food on the table in a country as wealthy as Canada.

I want to live in a country that makes the eradication of food insecurity and poverty a priority. In 2018, the federal government released Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy that is built on the pillars of dignity, providing opportunity and enhancing resilience and security. Specific targets for poverty reduction using the Market Basket Measure as Canada’s official poverty measure were established and food insecurity measurement is included as an indicator to track progress. This is a big step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done.

Existing programs that boost a household’s financial situation, such as the Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors and the Canada Child Benefit for families with children, have shown to be effective at reducing food insecurity – but these programs leave a big gap. A substantial number experiencing food insecurity are working-age people with no children who are ineligible for these financial supports. About 60% of food insecure households have employment as their main source of income, indicating that jobs are not paying enough. The establishment of a basic income guarantee for all Canadians has strong potential to significantly reduce food insecurity and poverty rates across the country. As perhaps the most highly sensitive measure of material deprivation, specific targets for the reduction of food insecurity should also be established for Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Based on 2007 data, poverty was estimated to cost Canada up to 30.5 billion dollars in public costs, including crime and healthcare, and up to 55.6 billion dollars in private costs, including lost productivity. In total, poverty in Canada was estimated to cost about 86 billion dollars.

 

In 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that a basic income for all Canadians, based on the Ontario Basic Income model, would cost approximately 76 billion dollars. However, when immediate cost savings are removed, such as social assistance costs and GST rebates, the net cost would be 44 billion dollars. This net cost is much less than the cost of poverty in Canada. A basic income guarantee for all would also align well with the pillars of Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy as it would help to foster dignity, opportunity and security for all recipients.

If elected, I ask that your party take swift action to develop and enact legislation for a basic income guarantee as an effective response to the problem of household food insecurity and to ease the burden of poverty in Canada.

Sincerely,

 
 
References:
Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Toronto, ON: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF); 2020 [cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://proof.utoronto.ca/.

 ii Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan [webpage online]. Ottawa: Government of Canada [updated 2020 April 24 cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html

iii Charlebois S, Somogyi S, McGuinty E et al. Canada’s Food Price Report 10th Edition 2020. Available from: https://cdn.dal.ca/content/dam/dalhousie/pdf/sites/agri-food/Canada%20Food%20Price%20Report%20Eng%202020.pdf. 

iv Ontario Dietitians in Public Health (formerly Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health). Position Statement on Responses to Food Insecurity. November 2015. Available from: https://www.odph.ca/upload/membership/document/2016-02/position-statement-2015-final.pdf.

v Power E, Belyea S, Collins P. "It's not a food issue; it's an income issue”: Using Nutritious Food Basket costing for health equity advocacy. Can J Pub Health, 2019;110:294-302. Available from: https://doi.org/10.17269/s41997-019-00185-5.

vi Riches G. Food bank nations: Poverty, corporate charity and the right to food. 1st ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2018.

vii Forget E. Basic income for Canadians – The key to a healthier, happier, more secure life for all. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company Ltd., Publishers; 2018.

viiiOffice of the Parliamentary Budget Officer. Costing a National Guaranteed Basic Income Using the Ontario Basic Income Model.  Ottawa, ON; April 2018 [cited 2020 April 25]. Available from: https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/Documents/Reports/2018/Basic%20Income/Basic_Income_Costing_EN.pdf.