A more generous Canada Child Benefit for low-income families would reduce their probability of food insecurity

March 9, 2023

Effect of Canada Child Benefit on Food Insecurity: A Propensity Score− Matched Analysis

New PROOF research, led by Dr. Fei Men, found that the additional money provided to families with younger children through the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) lowers their risk of household food insecurity.

The findings add to a large body of evidence that shows food insecurity in Canada can be reduced through policy interventions that improve household finances. The CCB could have a larger impact on food insecurity reduction if it provided more money to low-income families.

Although the CCB has been touted as a success for reducing child poverty, it was not designed to reduce food insecurity among Canadian families. Recent statistics showing that 1 in 5 children under 18 lived in a food-insecure family in 2021 suggests that the benefit isn’t providing enough support for the families that really need it.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, leveraged the fact that the CCB is larger for families with children under 6 years of age, up to $1,068 more annually. This policy feature provided researchers an opportunity to examine the question, what happens to food insecurity when families receive a more generous benefit?

By matching CCB-receiving families with and without children under 6 across a suite of sociodemographic characteristics known to predict risk of food insecurity, the researchers were able to isolate the impact of the extra money, on average $724 more per year or $60 more per month, provided to families with younger children — a reduction in the probability of food insecurity by nearly 3 percentage points, from 24.3% to 21.4%.

The effect of this relatively small amount of extra money in reducing families’ risk of food insecurity appeared to be even stronger for families with low incomes, renters, and lone-parent families.

Among lone-parent families, for example, receiving the additional CCB provided for children under 6 was associated with a 6-percentage point lower probability of food insecurity.

The findings from this study suggest that raising the size of the CCB for low-income families (i.e., the group most vulnerable to food insecurity), irrespective of the ages of their children, would reduce their risk of food insecurity. This could even be a cost-neutral change to the program if funds currently used to provide CCB to very high-income families (i.e., those with no or minuscule risk of food insecurity) were retargeted to low-income families.

The difference that this small amount of extra money makes is an important finding for the design of the CCB, which is a key part of the federal poverty reduction strategy. There is an opportunity for the federal government to make an larger impact on reducing food insecurity for struggling families. The finding is also highly relevant for provincial and territorial governments as most of them have their own child benefit programs too.

With the continued rise in food prices, cost of living is now front of mind for many Canadians. However, it is important to recognize that food insecurity is not a new problem in Canada.

In 2021, 1.4 million children lived in a food-insecure household , before this period of record inflation. The solutions require a sustained commitment to ensure income supports like the CCB are adequate for meeting basic needs.

The cost of inaction is too high. Living in a household struggling to afford food is toxic to children’s health and well-being. Not only does household food insecurity compromise children’s nutrition; they are at greater risk for serious mental health problems.

PROOF and Campaign 2000, a national coalition working to end family poverty, recently submitted a brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health that explained how enhancing the CCB for low-income families is an important policy action that would improve children’s health.

The study used data on 28,435 households receiving the CCB from the Canadian Income Survey, collected from 2019 to 2021. Since the Canadian Income Survey only started collecting data on race in 2021, a direction for future research would be to examine the ability for the CCB to address racial inequity through the lens of reductions in food insecurity.

This research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Read the full study

Men, F., St-Germain, A. A. F., Ross, K., Remtulla, R., & Tarasuk, V. (2023). Effect of Canada Child Benefit on Food Insecurity: A Propensity Score− Matched Analysis. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2023.01.027