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Why Are So Many Canadians Relying On Food Banks?

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There is certainly enough bad news to go around these days. In Western Canada, companies in the oil patch have laid off 35,000 workers since the price of oil plunged by half.

In Central Canada, the manufacturing sector has not lived up to expectations set by the fall in the value of the loonie.

In the east, unemployment continues to hover well above the Canadian average.

In the north, residents still face food prices that are three times higher than what can be found in southern grocery stores.

Today we have the unfortunate duty of reporting more bad news: food bank use has increased for the second consecutive year, and is now 26 per cent higher than it was in 2008, before the global financial crisis. Food banks are currently providing food to more than 850,000 people each and every month.

Food banks have been helping more than 700,000 people each month for the past 15 years. These are children, families, single people and working households who need help just to have enough food to eat -- and each month, 80,000 are asking for help for the very first time.

The sheer scope of food bank use in Canada is a shocking symptom of a multi-faceted problem we have been observing for far too long. First, millions of Canadians are stuck in a growing glut of low-paying jobs that don't pay the bills. On one hand are people who have advanced skills but are unable to put them to use; on the other are people who need to upgrade their skills but face multiple barriers to doing so.

Second, the support system for Canadians unable to work is a shadow of what is actually needed to help people get back on their feet. There are 800,000 unemployed Canadians who don't qualify for Employment Insurance; social assistance is a broken system; and millions of dollars in funding have been removed from training programs that target adults who face the highest barriers to employment.

This is a lot of bad news -- it's enough to make anyone stop reading.

Thankfully, there is some good news to be found in different parts of the country. Manitoba recently unveiled a subsidy to address the high cost of food in the north. British Columbia has announced several changes that will benefit people with disabilities in the province. The Nunavut Food Security Coalition is setting an example of what partnerships can accomplish in the north.

And, of course, the new federal government has made commitments that mirror many of the recommendations Food Banks Canada and others have made over the past few years. There is a promise to reinvest $200 million into training programs for adults who don't qualify for Employment Insurance; a promise to make affordable housing a primary focus of new infrastructure spending; and a promise to give our most vulnerable seniors a much-needed increase in their monthly pension benefits.

These and other promises give us tentative hope that the recommendations Food Banks Canada has made over the past few years are being heard and taken seriously, and that we can start to chip away at Canada's unfortunate global reputation as a leader in the use of food banks to address food insecurity.


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