Nutritious food costs up health unit finds

By Jenn Watt

Published April 4 2017

The cost of healthy eating has gone up again this year the health unit says making grocery shopping more difficult for low-income residents.

To measure the cost of shopping the health unit uses the cost of 67 nutritious common food items purchased by Ontarians for what they call the Nutritious Food Basket.

In a press release issued last week the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit said the cost of the food basket for a family of four is now $204.66 a week up by $34 a week since 2011. The basket reflects prices in Haliburton County Northumberland County and City of Kawartha Lakes.

Excluded from the food basket calculations are personal care items such as soap toilet paper and toothpaste.

Rising grocery prices affect everyone but the impact of rising costs is especially felt by those with low incomes. Information from the health unit shows how little money is left over for families in different income scenarios.

The average monthly income for a two-income household in Ontario is $7448 after tax. In the case of a two-parent household with two children the health unit estimates $1157 rent for a three-bedroom home and a monthly grocery bill of $886. That leaves the family with $5405 for hydro heat transportation phone clothing medical grooming school and other supplies.

Contrast that with the same size family working minimum wage full time. They would have a monthly after tax income of $2940. Other expenses of food and shelter being equal to the first family their remaining money for heat hydro and everything else would be $897.

It gets much worse from there. A family on Ontario Works receives $2227 a month. A single person receives $768 on Ontario Works. (That single person would end up in debt each month according to the health unit which estimates rent at $593 and food for the whole month at $286.)

Health unit dietitian Rosie Kadwell has been compiling data for the Nutritious Food Basket for the last decade and said incomes are not keeping pace with the increase in costs.

Local statistics show that one in 10 households are “food insecure” which means there is either not enough to eat or food supplies are so low it’s worrying household members that they may run out.

This doesn’t just affect those on social assistance. Kadwell provided the Echo with information gathered by Proof a coalition of university researchers showing that in Canada those who are food insecure often come from households relying on wages and salaries. Sixty-two per cent of food insecure Canadians in their 2012 study relied on income from work; 16 per cent were on social assistance; 12 per cent received seniors’ income; six per cent had no income or “other” income; and three per cent were receiving employment insurance or workers’ compensation.

When budgets get so tight that people can’t buy food Kadwell says the parents make do but it’s far from ideal.

“Mothers go without so they have food to pack in the kids’ lunches they eat less food they will buy the cheapest food that fills them up” she told the paper.

This scenario leads the health unit to advocate for better assistance to Ontarians beyond food bank programs.

“Food charities help to relieve hunger in the short term but we really need to find longer-term answers so that poverty and food insecurity do not persist in our community” Kadwell said in a press release.

The board of health has endorsed the idea of a basic income guarantee which provides a basic minimum income to people whether they have a job or not.

Ontario is launching a pilot program to see how this concept would work.

“We’re really eager to see the results of the pilot project” Kadwell said “because the basic income guarantee could be one viable way to solve the problem of food insecurity in our community.”

She said many still don’t know about the concept of basic income guarantee but that some local FoodNet members as well as Minden Hills Reeve Brent Devolin attended an event about the concept in City of Kawartha Lakes.