Growing number of food insecure families makes case for guaranteed income, says Health Unit

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The situation of food insecurity – struggling to put food on the table due to financial constraints – is a reality for 3,900 people in Northwestern Ontario. 

According to an annual food costing survey conducted by the Northwestern Health Unit, the average cost for a family of four to purchase nutritious food in 2017 is $225.45 per week or $976.20 per month. While the cost of food has increased 6.5% since 2010, the issue runs deeper than just the price of healthy food. 

“The real issue is that people with low incomes do not have enough money to pay the rent and all the bills, plus buy healthy food,” says Julie Slack, Registered Dietitian with the NWHU. “Food is a basic human right. We need minimum wages and social assistance rates to increase to a reasonable, realistic amount so that families will no longer be forced to choose between healthy food on the table or a roof over their heads.” 

It is also important to note that there is a common misconception that employment alone will allow individuals or families to break the cycle of food insecurity; however, this is not the case. Over half (58.9%)2 of Ontario families struggling to put food on the table are part of the labour force. 

People who experience food insecurity tend to have poor physical and mental health, and suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and heart disease. Management of these conditions then costs the health care system. 

Slack shares that “Provincial Bill 148: Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017 and the government’s commitment to conducting the basic income (guaranteed annual income) pilot is encouraging, as both have strong potential as part of a multi-pronged approach to reduce poverty and income inequality.” 

What can you do to help? Whether you are a community member or a service provider here are some practical and tangible steps you can take: 

* Learn more about food insecurity, poverty, Bill 148 and Guaranteed Annual Income by visiting www.nwhu.on.ca or contacting your local health unit office. 

* Speak out. As a citizen you can help increase awareness about the need for long term solutions to food insecurity and poverty by sharing information with friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. If you are part of a service organization, such as a food bank, you can advocate for long term solutions that will reduce dependency on emergency sources of food. 

* Use your skills. Become part of a local committee or group focused on reducing poverty and food insecurity, or write a letter to your local Member of Parliament.

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