A new report by the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) found a growing number of seniors and single people relying on food banks for hunger relief. Nearly 360,000 adults and children are using food banks each month across Ontario as food insecurity is becoming a reality for an increasing number in the province.
The new statistics were released Monday in the Ontario Hunger Report. The report reveals there were 10,000 more visits to provincial food banks in 2015 with 90 per cent of clients being renters or social housing tenants — a number that is four per cent higher than last year.
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"Every single day there are Ontarians struggling to make ends meet and who are forced to make the difficult choice between their most basic needs, like paying the rent or eating a meal," the report stated. "In a province as prosperous as Ontario, there is no reason a child should go to bed hungry or that a senior should have to skip a meal simply because they cannot afford it."
In total, the report found that 358,963 people visited food banks across Ontario last March, a number that's roughly the same size as the population of London, Ont. More than 120,000 of those were children under the age of 18.
'It is only through good public policy that we will be able to break the cycle of poverty in Ontario.' - Sharon Lee, OAFB executive director
The majority of individual food bank clients are making less than $1,100 per month. When factoring rent and utilities, that doesn't leave much money for food.
"This year, we saw a 35 per cent increase in the number of senior citizens accessing our food banks — something we did not expect, and something that causes us a great deal of concern," Amanda Finley King, a communications manager for the OAFB said via email. The figures are comprised from the month of March, comparing this year to last.
The report also shows 49.2 per cent of Ontarians who use food banks live in single-person households, both the highest number on record and 11 per cent higher than it was five years ago.
The association's executive director Sharon Lee attributes the rise in seniors and singles using food banks to a lack of affordable housing in the province on top of "insufficient" social assistance and support programs for seniors.
1 of 3 Ontario jobs precarious
The report also touches on the increased nature of precarious work — contract and temporary jobs — in the province as a cause for concern.
"Employment in Ontario, for example, has continued to remain uncertain since the 2008 recession. While the number of jobs overall may have increased, one out of every three jobs in Ontario is temporary, contract or part-time," the paper noted.
"Specifically, those in temporary and part-time positions make 33 per cent and 40 per cent less per hour, respectively, than their full-time counterparts."
Ninety per cent of food bank clients live in rental or social housing, according to the report. On average, food bank clients spend 70 per cent of their income on rent, which leaves little for all other expenses.
"The 2015 Hunger Report illustrates this, and reveals that these individuals are often not who you think," Lee said in a statement.
Seniors increasingly in need
According to the findings, more than 12 per cent of all Ontario senior citizens fall below the Low Income Measure, which defines and determines poverty. That number hits 27 per cent when looking at seniors who are also single.
This is particularly troubling given that seniors are expected to make up 23 per cent of the population by the year 2030.
The stress on single person households are also a cause for concern in the report. The basic income gap for Ontarians in these homes falls 33 per cent under the 2014 poverty line of $19,774, while someone on the provincial disability support program falls 60 per cent below this mark.
The paper makes clear that "more progress needs to be made to guarantee that social assistance reform has transparent benchmarks, reflects the realities faced by all households and ensures that all individuals ... can afford their most basic needs."
Higher use than pre-recession
While food bank use has remained consistent over the past several years, it is still 14 per cent higher than before the recession hit in 2008, the report found. Nearly 45,000 more adults and children are still visiting food banks each month compared to 2008.
That's in line with national statistics, which show food bank use is still 26 per cent higher than prior to the recession, according to the report.
"It is only through good public policy that we will be able to break the cycle of poverty in Ontario," Lee said in her statement.