Toronto Programs

Basic income a solution to food insecurity, says professor

Nutrition professor Valerie Tarasuk argues that more action from the government is needed to help solve food insecurity.

Majority of people who are food insecure are employed, but struggle to put food on the table

Professor Valerie Tarasuk argues that government action is the best way to solve food insecurity. (CBC)

Food banks might allow Canadians to support hungry people in their community, but nutrition professor Valerie Tarasuk argued on CBC's Metro Morning that more action from the government is needed to really help solve food insecurity.

"We have examples of social policy that enables people to feed themselves and their children," said Tarasuk, who teaches at the University of Toronto. "What's hard is breaking the sound barrier with governments."

A Statistics Canada report released last year suggested that food insecurity rates have remained stable in Canada over the last five years.

But Tarasuk said the numbers are still staggering. 

"One in eight households is struggling to put food on the table because of affordability issues," she said.

Majority of food insecure people are employed

"When we look at who is food insecure, there absolutely are people on social assistance, but on top of that, we have a huge problem with food insecurity among people in the workforce," said Tarasuk.  

She estimates the two-thirds of the people who are struggling to put food on the table are employed, but are unable to buy the food they need due to low wages or part-time and precarious work.

"We can look at isolated pockets of the problem and say we need [better] social assistance. But a basic income would reach everybody," she said.

Basic income, which would guarantee a minimum annual income, is set to be tested by the Ontario government in a $25-million dollar pilot project before April 2017. 

Need inspiration? Look to the Old Age Security pension

Tarasuk said that lawmakers could look to the example of the Old Age Security pension that kicks in at age 65 as a blueprint for how basic income could impact food insecurity.

"No matter what you've done for the last 65 years, at that point you become eligible for old age security and a guaranteed income supplement, and full drug coverage. At that point, you suddenly have an income floor that is indexed to inflation. And even though that income floor is not as high as the poverty line, it's still more than double of what people on welfare are getting," she said.

"Researchers showed that looking at single, low-income Canadian adults in their 50s, maybe 40 per cent are food insecure. At 65, it drops by more than half."  

CBC Toronto's annual charity drive in support of Toronto-area food banks began on Nov. 1. The yearly open house will be held on Friday, Dec. 2. More information about the charity drive is available here.

With files from Metro Morning