Increased Supports for Single Adults Living with Low Incomes
One of the most striking trends in the food bank network is the growth of single unattached individuals walking through our doors across the country and asking for help. The percent of single people using food banks has doubled since 2001, having grown from 30% of households to 45% in 2018.
Looking at the staggering economic statistics for this group, it doesn’t take long to figure out why the food bank network has seen this jump. Depending on which measure one looks at, between 9% and 13% of Canadians can be defined as having low incomes. Using the Market Basket Measure (which the government has declared will become the new official poverty measure), the figure is just over 1 in 10. If we look only at unattached (i.e. single) working-age people, the figure jumps to 33%: one in every three single adults lives in poverty.vii
This group alone represents a low income population of 1.3 million people. This group lives in deep poverty, with average incomes that are 50% below the poverty line. This means these individuals are often struggling to survive on about $10,000 per year.
Given these statistics, it is hardly surprising that close to one in five single adults experience food insecurity and that so many need help from a food bank to make ends meet.viii
This is a population that, from a government program perspective, has few places to turn and seems to have been largely forgotten by federal and provincial governments. For decades, governments have focused policies on specific subsets of the populations such as families and seniors, yet have routinely overlooked working-age single adults as a group that requires targeted action.
A large number are receiving social assistance but can’t climb out of poverty due to the grossly inadequate supports and strict conditions that come with these programs. Overall, government supports for this group of vulnerable people have declined by half since the mid 1990s.ix
The federal government has recently increased their supports for low income Canadians who are working with the expansion of the Canada Workers Benefit. Food Banks Canada had called on the government to enact these changes and we applaud this step in the right direction – but more help is required for this segment of the population that has been ignored for far too long.
We recommend that the federal government implement the following steps to better support low-income single adults:
To create a new program to support ill and unemployed Canadians whose temporary Employment Insurance (EI) or disability benefits are about to run out. This new program would close a major gap in our social safety net that leaves many people with no choice but to enter a cycle of poverty perpetuated by our broken social assistance systems across the country.
To make single, low-income adults a priority consideration in all future poverty reduction policy measures to ensure that this vulnerable population is no longer left behind.
To implement our Basic Income recommendation (see Basic Income in this report) to address the high levels of poverty amongst singles with no attachment to the labour force.
Food Banks Canada provides national leadership to relieve hunger today and prevent hunger tomorrow in collaboration with the food bank network in Canada. We do this by maximizing the collective impact of the network, strengthening the local capacity of food banks, and advocating to reduce the need for food banks.
vii Toronto : Food Banks Canada. viii V. Tarasuk, A. Mitchell & N. Dachner . Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). ix B. Murphy, X. Zhang & C. Dionne . Low income in Canada: A multi-line and multi-index perspective. Statistics Canada.