03/13/2017 03:54 EDT | Updated 03/13/2017 04:02 EDT

Living In Poverty, Forgotten By Governments

Homeless young invalid man sitting in wheelchair on the street
LaraBelova via Getty Images
Homeless young invalid man sitting in wheelchair on the street

In the 2016 HungerCount report, Food Banks Canada called on the federal government to implement a poverty reduction strategy no later than the fall of 2017. Canadians who are struggling with food insecurity cannot wait years for the federal government to act. They need help now, today.

Food bank use hovering at record levels

The number of people accessing food banks has been sitting at record levels for an unprecedented span of time. More than 830,000 people have accessed a food bank, each and every month, since 2010.

Many people think that the need for food banks is ever-increasing, but in fact this is not true. Food bank use actually decreased for four consecutive years between 2004 and 2008, during a time when Canada's unemployment rate was at its lowest level in decades.

Of course, in late 2008 the global economic downturn hit Canada, and food bank use quickly began to expand. It is now 26 per cent higher than it was before the 2008-2009 recession.

Food bank numbers show growing vulnerability

The need for food banks exists across the spectrum. For example, more than 40 per cent of households accessing food are families with children, and one in every six households helped tells us that employment is their primary source of income.

As we recently told the House of Commons HUMA committee, which is currently studying poverty reduction, one of the most striking trends in the food bank network has been the growth of single individuals asking for assistance. Single people have grown from 30 per cent of households helped by food banks in 2001, to 45 per cent in 2016.

Few government supports for single people living in poverty

Nationally, about one in every ten Canadians lives in poverty. If we focus on single working-age adults, the figure jumps to 33 per cent: one in every three single adults lives in poverty. This group alone represents a population of 1.3 million people. And low-income singles live in deep poverty, with average incomes that are 50 per cent below the poverty line -- which means they are living on a shockingly low average income of about $10,000 per year.

This is a population that, from a government program perspective, has few places to turn. Many are receiving social assistance. If they are working, they can access the Working Income Tax Benefit, but the amounts are small.

The Advisory Council on Economic Growth estimates that we could add $38 billion to Canada's GDP by increasing the labour market participation of Canadians with low incomes and low skill levels -- including working-age single people. To accomplish this will require revolutionary changes to the relationship between governments and working-age singles living in poverty.

A golden opportunity

The forthcoming federal Poverty Reduction Strategy seems like a last resort and a golden opportunity for this struggling, forgotten group of Canadians. If this, of all strategies, does not turn its attention to this population, it is hard to imagine another way their struggles can be addressed. We are strongly urging the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, the minister leading the federal government's poverty reduction strategy, to make low income single people a central focus of this essential initiative.

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