Food bank use in Canada increased slightly this year in comparison to 2013, and it remains significantly higher than it was before the economic recession, according to a report released Tuesday by Food Bank Canada.
In the month of March 2014, more than 840,000 people received food bank assistance, one per cent higher than the same snapshot period last year. More than a third of them were children, and nearly half of households helped were families with children.
Five years after the economy’s downturn, 170,000 more people per month were walking through the doors of food banks than was the case before the recession.
The annual HungerCount study provides one of the most up-to-date national indicators of poverty. The study highlights the factors driving the need for food banks and the continued high use of food banks in Canada, calling the 840,000-figure "alarming."
Who is using food banks?
The majority of those receiving food live in rental housing. One in seven self-identify as First Nations, Métis or Inuit — up from 11 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent in 2014. Twelve per cent of those being helped are immigrants or refugees, rising to 20 per cent in cities with populations greater than 100,000.
The report says food bank use by single adults who live alone has doubled in the last 13 years, as social assistance benefits have not increased with the cost of living for about 20 years.
Twelve per cent of food bank users are employed.
More and more, Canadians are stuck in part-time, temporary, low-paying jobs, thanks to a nationwide loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Because of this, many are forced to depend on government benefits, and that assistance is not doing enough, the report argues.
“Low income is just one part of the equation that leads to food insecurity and the need for food banks,” the report says.
“Just as important are the systems, led and managed by our federal, provincial and municipal governments, that exist to ensure Canadians do not fall into destitution. These overlapping yet underco-ordinated and sometimes conflicting systems are failing too many.”
Report points finger at inadequate social programs
This year's report delves into the "why" of food banks "and the picture is not a positive one."
"The massive loss of well-paying blue-collar jobs, too many people without the skills for today's labour market, inadequate social programs for people facing hard times — we have largely not taken the steps necessary to address these problems head-on," Food Bank Canada says.
Recommendations for lowering the number of food bank-dependent Canadians include more government-subsidized affordable housing and a focus on helping the large number of hungry people in Canada’s North.
Revolutionizing welfare, making more of an effort to end child poverty and improving literacy and skills training are also among the recommendations to stem the root causes of hunger.