By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The province’s minimum wage needs to be increased to a more livable wage if people are going to beat food insecurity.
That’s one of the findings in the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit’s 2022 Nutritious Food Basket Report. The document is entitled Addressing Food Insecurity and Poverty in the County of Haliburton, City of Kawartha Lakes and Northumberland County.
The minimum hourly wage in Ontario is $15.50. Compare that to the $19.05 per hour that’s calculated to be the 2022 living wage for all three counties.
Food insecurity refers to not having enough food or worrying there is not enough to eat because of a lack of money.
“Food banks were created to provide temporary relief and cannot address the issue of insufficient incomes, which is the root cause of poverty and food insecurity,” said Sarah Tsang, a registered dietitian and health equity coordinator with the HKPR District Health Unit.
“Reducing food insecurity will need to include income-based strategies such as increasing minimum wage to a living wage, improving employment standards, increasing social assistance rates that reflect the true costs of living, and providing a basic income guarantee in Canada.”
With food prices expected to rise again in 2023, residents are encouraged to learn more about the issues impacting over 10 per cent of households in the geographical area, she said.
It is also important to support income-based solutions and companies that pay their employees a living wage while also being kind and compassionate to friends, family and neighbours who may be struggling with food insecurity.
In 2020, as many as 12.9 per cent of Haliburton County households, 8.7 per cent of Northumberland County households, and 10.2 per cent of City of Kawartha Lakes households were considered low-income and struggled to pay for rent, bills, and healthy food.
The 2022 report highlights the cost of healthy eating when compared to different household income scenarios.
The health unit estimates an average family of four (two adults, a teen, and child) would have spent just more than $1,100 per month to eat healthy in 2022.
The Nutritious Food Basket consists of more than 60 food items that are healthy and commonly purchased. Items not included in the food basket costing are essentials like soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, and other personal care items.
Within the report, the health unit compared the incomes and expenses of several household scenarios to show how different incomes can affect healthy eating across Haliburton County, City of Kawartha Lakes, and Northumberland County.
Those scenarios included a family of four on minimum wage, a single parent on social assistance with children, single adults, and seniors.
“When families cannot afford the quality or amount of food they need to stay healthy, they are food insecure,” said Tsang. “Many families do not have enough money left over to buy healthy food after paying for rent and utilities.”
The comparison of household incomes and expenses for each scenario includes monthly income, average monthly rent, and percentage of income required for rent, cost of nutritious food basket and percentage of income required to purchase healthy food, and money remaining for other basic needs.
Some of the report’s other findings include that 25.9 per cent of households living in rental housing are food insecure. Only 20 per cent of those that are food insecure use food banks or food charity programs. As many as 63.1 per cent of Canadians relying on social assistance were food insecure.
It has been more than 20 years since Ontario has made major changes to social assistance programs.
By James Matthews