There is no doubt that the last year was marked by hardship, stress, and loss for many Canadians. Millions lost their jobs virtually overnight, and while some have been able to return to work, a return to pre-pandemic economic stability and normalcy still seems many years away.
However, if there is one silver lining to the first year of the pandemic, it is that we witnessed in real time what Food Banks Canada has been saying for years: good social policies can have a significant impact on reducing food insecurity when they address its root causes, which are low incomes and poverty.
As our data has shown, the rapid introduction of the CERB and other supports initially “flattened the curve” of food bank use early in the pandemic in many parts of the country. These new programs, which have since been pulled back, played a significant role in many Canadians having enough income to buy food to feed themselves and their families.
In Canada, we know that food is only a small part of household food insecurity. Food banks are there to support people with immediate needs. They can only do so much to help people in the long term. The pandemic and the subsequent policies put in place by the federal government offer clear proof that sound public policies that raise people’s incomes and lift them out of poverty are the key to reducing food insecurity in the long term.
The fact that the CERB and other supports had such a significant impact on mitigating the potentially devastating consequences of the pandemic should be applauded and used as a building block as we build back a better Canada.
Before the pandemic, food banks in Canada were visited more than 1 million times per month. They were already at capacity and struggling to meet their communities’ needs. We now have a roadmap to follow to create a new normal where far fewer Canadians rely on a food bank in the future—and an opportunity to follow it.
Unfortunately, many of the programs introduced at the beginning of the pandemic were only temporary and have already come to an end or will soon phase out. Many Canadians, and food banks, are apprehensive about the months and years ahead, as economic hardship has not gone away, even if many support programs have.
...it is clear that much more still needs to be done if we are to reach the intended goals of significantly reducing poverty, and food bank use, in Canada.
As the country starts to slowly map out what our post-pandemic society will look like, it is especially important that we learn from the policies that were successful in helping Canadians support themselves during difficult times.
It is also important that we learn who fell through the cracks during this period to help us provide a more encompassing set of supports and initiatives for those who are most in need. This includes exploring in more detail why some demographics were economically impacted more negatively than others.
For example, Indigenous and racialized groups had higher numbers reporting a strong or moderate negative financial impact of COVID-19 than white Canadians, even after taking into consideration their differences in job loss, immigration status, pre-COVID employment status, and other demographic characteristics.
Looking forward, Canada now has an opportunity, and a choice. We can choose to revert to a pre-pandemic “normal” where more than 1 million Canadians every month need help from a food bank to make ends meet—or we can seize the opportunity to build a better Canada, one that leaves no one behind.