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Inflation: Child hunger a major concern in Canada

Written by Javed Iqbal

TORONTO-

Skipping the occasional meal has become the norm for Tara Andrews, who says sky-high grocery prices have made it too difficult to feed herself and her two teenagers.

Even with the help of food donations and her retired parents, the 49-year-old single mother says the sky-high cost of living is more than she can handle with her monthly income of $ 1,200. She is already a month in arrears with corn rent and expects the same for June.

“My grocery bill has almost doubled and I get maybe half of what I used to be able to get. It is a direct relationship that the more expensive things become, the less I can afford to buy, ”says Andrews from his home in Coquitlam, BC

It’s a well-known story for various agencies dedicated to tackling food insecurity, with the head of Food Banks Canada saying many families with children are particularly precarious when school-based food programs end.

It’s a well-known story for various agencies dedicated to tackling food insecurity, with the head of Food Banks Canada saying many families with children are particularly precarious when school-based food programs end.

Kirstin Beardsley says about a third of the people who depend on Canadian food banks are children – as many as up to 400,000 each month. The agency says the use of food banks is increasing among single parents.

“These are children who do not get a chance to thrive. And that has a long-term impact on the country, ”says Beardsley.

“You can not forget that children do not get a new childhood, they can not do this about. This is their one chance and you have to make sure that we give everyone the opportunity they need to build it. life they want. “

This summer, Food Banks Canada hopes to increase the summer food packages it offers children to 175,000 – up 25,000 from last year and many times over the 700 initial packages in 2015.

In Toronto, the head of the Daily Bread Food Bank also says that requests for assistance have risen as inflation peaked in nearly four decades.

Neil Hetherington says his agency sees about 160,000 customer visits a month – up from about 120,000 a month in January. He says modeling the organization has done with CIBC predicts it will increase to 200,000 customer visits a month in December.

He says counterparties across the country are telling him about similar increases, with many reporting a 20 to 30 percent increase in demand.

While many of these visitors have been on the margins for years, Hetherington says he also sees new faces who have otherwise never turned to charitable food organizations, linking the rise to a confluence of soaring food prices, gas prices, housing costs and persistent uncertainty on labor in some sectors.

“We see people working, but their paycheck does not keep pace with the cost of being able to drive to their workplace or be able to feed their children. They are increasingly worried about what they see and (about) being able to put food on the table, ”says Hetherington.

Back in British Columbia, Andrews says things would be much worse for her without the subsidy for her three-bedroom apartment, which brings the rent down to $ 540 a month.

But she says pre-existing economic problems deepened during the pandemic and only got worse in 2022, when inflation also drove up the price of gas and supplies.

She is also burdened with $ 150,000 in school loans, but can only cover the interest.

“I’m luckier than some because I live in housing, so it’s subsidized, but still you have all the bills that come with it to keep the house running. Then there’s the food on top,” she says.

“I earn enough to cover my bills and really not to be able to afford food. That’s really what it’s down to. ”

Among the organizations Andrews relies on are the North Vancouver-based Backpack Buddies, which provide weekend meals for children who need help getting food between the time school ends Friday afternoon and resumes Monday morning.

The program expanded into the summer months during the pandemic and will grow even more this summer, says co-executive director Emily-anne King.

“We were hoping in a way that the start of COVID in March 2020 and the next six months would be the height of demand for services like ours, but we are seeing more demand today than we have ever had,” King says. .

She says they have recently added 500 more recipients to local communities, including the lower Similkameen, Saltspring Island and the village of Lytton, devastated by last year’s forest fire. They expect to help about 2,100 children a week this summer.

Demand is rising as annual inflation rises faster than it has done since 1983, when Statistics Canada announced on Wednesday that the consumer price index rose 7.7 percent in May compared to a year ago.

It has many funds for several rate hikes to control inflation. The Bank of Canada has already raised its main target three times this year.

Statistics Canada said in May that the price of groceries rose nearly 10 percent from the year before, equivalent to the jump in April. The price of fresh vegetables rose by 10 percent, while the largest increase ever included edible fats and oils by 30 percent.

As prices continue to rise, food policy expert Valerie Tarasuk of the University of Toronto says things will only get worse for 5.8 million Canadians believed to be food insecure, among them about 1.4 million children.

While this pool may grow larger this year, she is most concerned about already suffering Canadians, who will sink further unless income support programs increase in line with rising costs.

“Things get much worse before they get better. And I think with each of these reports, I hope our political leaders feel more and more pressure to reconsider what they’re doing at the bottom end,” he said. Tarasuk.

“We do not need small one-time checks. They will not be enough to make it go away. We need policies that are actually lasting, and that means things like indexing. “

The Bank of Canada has said it is prepared to “act more forcefully” to boost inflation, prompting some economists to suspect interest rates could rise by three-quarters of a percentage point next month, the equivalent of US Federal Reserve movement last week.

For Canadians who are already overdeveloped, Hetherington says an increase of one or two percent on monthly mortgage or loan repayments can be significant.

“I see kids every day who are excited to be in the food bank and buy the food they need,” Hetherington says.

“They are excited to be with their parents and shop at a food bank, and it breaks your heart. It is completely wrong that this is happening in our country.”


This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 23, 2022.

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Javed Iqbal

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