The good news
This year, total food bank visits reported across the food bank network in Canada in March 2019 was 1,084,386. While still a shockingly high number of food bank visits for one month, it is 1% lower than it was last year. This corresponds to strong economic indicators such as low unemployment rates. When unemployment rates are low, the working age population are generally able to access more employment income, which makes needing a food bank less likely.
Food bank visits are approximately at the same level they were in 2010, when food banks nationwide were starting to feel the full impacts of the 2008 recession.
Food bank use has stabilized, with the number of visits this year approximately the same as they were last year.
Food bank visits for March 2019 are now approximately the same level as what they were in 2010. In the aftermath of the recession, unemployment rates were at their peak in throughout 2009 and early 2010. For many individuals, accessing food banks were a last resort after severance, E.I. and savings had run out. Food bank visits saw the full effect of this in March of 2011 when there were over 1.2 million visits that month, a 14% jump over the prior year. Visits remained high and then saw a gradual decrease from 2015 onward, with numbers stabilizing over the last year. This decline has corresponded to a decline in unemployment rates over the same period.
The percentage of children accessing food banks has been slowly declining, and now represent 34.4% of all food bank clients, whereas in 2010 they were 37.2%. An improving economy, combined with federal and provincial tax benefits for families with children, have been helping to slowly increase incomes of these households and may be having an impact on these results.
The number of children accessing food banks has been slowly declining since 2010.
The bad news
While the percentage of children (34.1%) accessing food banks is declining, they are still far over represented compared to the general population (19.4%).
Even though children under 18 now represent 34.1% of the food bank population, they are still far over represented compared to the general population, where they sit at 19.4%. Costs associated with raising children, including child care costs, combined with rising costs of basics like food and rent, still put immense pressure on households with children, leaving them vulnerable to poverty and hunger.
While overall visits are back to where they were in 2010, there has been a dramatic shift in the composition of those visits, indicating certain groups are being left o ut of the economic recovery and have become more vulnerable to poverty and hunger. They include single person households, and those receiving provincial disability support or pensions as their main source of income. Those groups are not mutually exclusive, and often overlap.
Single person households versus single parent households
Despite a steady economic recovery, single person households without children have increased from 38% of all food bank households to 48%. Conversely, single parent households have decreased from 27.5% of households to just over 18%. While there are numerous tax benefits that can increase incomes for households with children, single person households do not have the same range of benefits, and often have to rely solely on the extremely low levels of provincial social assistance income if they are not able to access employment.
Those who are less likely to be able to work due to disability or are retirement age – those who receive provincial disability support or pension as their main source of income – have increased from 21% in 2010 to over 26% in 2019. Both groups are struggling with rapidly rising costs of living, along with the increased costs that accompany greater health care needs. Seniors 65 and over have been the fasting rising age group accessing food banks. Those receiving disability support as their main source of income are contending with incomes that haven’t grown with inflation and often don’t cover basic household expenses.
The increasing cost of housing nationwide, and the lack of rent geared to income units, have been another factor that has been driving the demand for food banks. Those living in market rent housing have increased as a proportion of visits versus those in social (rent-geared to income) housing.
70% of clients live in market rent housing, up from 60% in 2010. Those living in social housing have decreased from 25.6% to 14.4%. The effects of skyrocketing rental markets have been spilling over from outside urban areas and into smaller towns, and recent investments in affordable housing units have not yet been able to address the massive demand.