“Household food insecurity is when people don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity or quality of affordable and nutritious food” – Statistics Canada
As a household’s income declines, the risk of food insecurity increases. Almost half of households in Canada that report social assistance as their main source of income are severely food insecure. This means they are at risk for poor health outcomes. The current minimum wage and social assistance rates do not keep up with inflation. This contributes to food insecurity in our area.
Food banks and food charities may provide short-term relief, but they do not solve food insecurity. Community food banks and meal programs provide emergency food to low-income households. These programs do not reduce household food insecurity because they do not address inadequate income.
The Porcupine Health Unit surveys the cost of food each year. During 2020 and 2021 data was not collected, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nutritious Food Basket (NFB) is the monitoring tool used to conduct this survey. In June 2022, the Porcupine Health Unit participated in a province-wide pilot of a new NFB process**. The pilot process used in-store and online data collection from a six grocery stores in our district to find the average cost of a set list of food items.
This list was updated in 2020, based on the National Nutritious Food Basket, and to reflect the new Canada’s food guide and consumer purchasing patterns. Non-food items are not included in the NFB survey. Food that is not prepared at home is also excluded. Health units relate the cost of the nutritious food basket to individual and family incomes. This shows what proportion of a household's money goes towards food and rent. It also shows how much or how little is left over at the end of the month. This information can be used to draw attention to the cost of food and advocate to decision makers for policy change.
**Pilot results cannot be compared to previous years, due to the different processes and list of new foods included in the NFB.
Below you will find a table with household and income scenarios that show how much money remains each month after paying for rent and food. These results show how individuals and families living on low incomes struggle to cover the cost of living and eating well. Remember, these results do not include things like phone bills, personal hygiene items, and car/life insurance.
|Scenarios||Total monthly income||Monthly rent* (may include heat/hydro)||Food expenses**||Funds remaining for other basic needs||% of income required for rent||% of income required to purchase healthy food|
|Family of Four, Ontario Works||$2,780||$1,118||$1,240||$422||40%||45%|
|Family of Four, Full-time Minimum Wage||$3,993||$1,118||$1,240||$1,635||28%||31%|
|Family of Four, Median Ontario Income||$9,323||$1,118||$1,240||$6,965||12%||13%|
|Single Parent Household with Two Children, Ontario Works||$2,548||$1035||$870||$643||41%||34%|
|One Person Household, Ontario Works||$876||$591||$369||-$84||67%||42%|
|One Person Household, Ontario Disability Support Program||$1,322||$890||$369||$63||67%||28%|
|One Person Household, Old Age Security/Guaranteed Income Supplement||$1,898||$890||$269||$739||47%||14%|
|Married Couple, Ontario Disability Support Program||$ 2,343||$890||$674||$1,564||38%||29%|
Household food insecurity is harmful to our health and well-being. It also creates a burden on our healthcare system. Children are more likely to lack self-efficacy to make healthy lifestyle choices. Adults experiencing food insecurity often have poorer mental, physical, and oral health.
Here are some of the health risks people living in food insecure households face:
Access to food is a basic human right. Only efforts to address poverty, the root cause of food insecurity, can truly solve this issue.
Click here for more information from Ontario Dietitians in Public Health on Food Insecurity, its impacts, and recommendations for action to address it.