N.B. has country's second-highest rate of household food insecurity, says report
Almost 1 in 5 households were food-insecure in 2021, amounting to 140,000 individuals
New Brunswick had the second-highest rate of household food insecurity in Canada last year, according to a new report.
The study from PROOF, a research program at the University of Toronto, states that 19 per cent of New Brunswick households experienced food insecurity between 2020 and 2021.
Household food insecurity is defined as having inadequate access to food due to financial barriers. The experience can range from people running out of food before they have the money to go grocery shopping, the inability to afford a balanced diet, or missing meals.
Tied to health
According to Valerie Tarasuk, from University of Toronto's department of nutritional sciences and a lead researcher on the study, food insecurity is tightly tied to health. So people who face food insecurity "burn more dollars" in provincial health care systems, she says.
"To put more money into benefits to make sure that someone who qualifies for welfare or disability payments in New Brunswick has enough money to truly have a chance to cover their rent and cost of food. That's a very, very smart measure from a health perspective," she said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.
According to Stephane Sirois, the executive director of the Food Depot Alimentaire based in Moncton, the organization has seen about 30 per cent more clients across its 160 agencies since the beginning of the year. That includes soup kitchens, shelters and 63 food banks.
Sirois said he's been seeing more seniors and first-time users of food banks recently.
"If you're on a fixed income or your rent is going up, fuel is going up, price of food is going up. Even if you were doing relatively well like a year or two ago, now you're kind of tipped over the edge and you need help."
Temporary relief, not solutions
Sirois said food banks are "never a solution" to food insecurity issues.
"[Food banks] were supposed to be a temporary solution. And really 30, 40 years later, and the need is bigger than it's ever been. So if something is not working, than there needs to be a look at what needs to be done to prevent people from ever needing to go to a food bank in the first place," said Sirois.
Right now the agencies are receiving over 25,000 visits every month, up from the usual 20,000 to 22,000 in recent years.
Tarasuk said New Brunswick's benefit levels are "too low" compared to other provinces such as Québec, which has the lowest percentage of household food insecurity at 13.1 per cent in 2021.
"If the benefits on social assistance are increased, the prevalence and the severity of food insecurity among social assistance recipients goes down. So that problem is very, very receptive to change if benefits are improved," said Tarasuk.
CBC News asked the Department of Social Development for comment.
Improvements in social assistance programs to be made
The province has made improvements, both in terms of minimum wage increases and social assistance in the last couple of years, Tarasuk said. On Oct. 1, the minimum wage rate will increase by a dollar to $13.75 per hour.
"What matters is the generosity of benefits to people on social assistance, the accuracy of the minimum wage relative to cost of living in that area, and also the extent to which the province is taxing or not taxing the lowest income people in the province," she said.
Alberta has the highest food insecurity rate at 20.3 per cent, the report states.
Across the 10 provinces, 15.9 per cent of households experienced some level of food insecurity in the last year. This includes around 5.8 million people, including 1.4 million children.
The study didn't include data from people living in the three territories or in First Nations communities.
Tarasuk said people who are food insecure are more likely to have chronic health problems such as diabetes, depression, arthritis, asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.
"They're way more likely to not be able to manage them. And that means that they're turning up in emergency departments and in hospitals. And if they're in a hospital, they'll stay longer."
With files from Harry Forestell
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