The Guardian Op-ed – P.E.I. made history by setting a timeline for eliminating food insecurity: Here’s how they can achieve it.

Read our new op-ed, “P.E.I. made history by setting a timeline for eliminating food insecurity: Here’s how they can achieve it.“, by Jennifer Taylor, PhD, RD, Professor at the University of Prince Edward Island; Tim Li, MSCom, PROOF Research Program Coordinator; and Valerie Tarasuk, PhD, Professor at the University of Toronto and principal investigator of PROOF.

In this op-ed, we discuss the significance of the food insecurity reduction targets set by the new Poverty Elimination Strategy Act and 4 evidence-based actions that the PEI government can pursue to reach these targets. We highlighted this historic bill in our previous blog post, “Prince Edward Island: The first jurisdiction to set explicit targets for reducing food insecurity“.


During the spring sitting, the P.E.I. legislature unanimously passed the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, which lays out a timeline for reducing and eliminating poverty by 2035 and eliminating food insecurity by 2030. That means that, by 2030, every household in P.E.I. will be able to access the food they need.

What does it mean to be food-insecure? When Statistics Canada measures food insecurity, they are identifying households who have experienced insecure or inadequate access to food due to a lack of money. These experiences range from worrying about running out of food, to children not eating for whole days. As researchers in food insecurity and nutrition, we’ve learned a lot about this problem and ways to reduce it from the Statistics Canada data.

Continue reading at The Guardian.

Prince Edward Island: The first jurisdiction to set explicit targets for reducing food insecurity

Text: Food insecurity in Prince Edward Island. Based on the most recently available data from 2017-2018: 14.0% of households were food-insecure. 19.2% of children under 18 lived in food-insecure households. Background: Silhouette of PEI map

Map of PEI modified from NordNordWest under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, MLAs in PEI unanimously passed the first bill in Canada that sets explicit and binding targets for food insecurity reduction. The Poverty Elimination Strategy Act, tabled by Green MLA Hannah Bell, establishes targets for reducing the rates of poverty, food insecurity, and chronic homelessness on the Island.[1]

Targets established by the Poverty Elimination Strategy Act[1]

By 2025:

  • Reduce the PEI poverty rate for 2018 by 25% among all persons.
  • Reduce the PEI poverty rate for 2018 by 50% among children under 18 years of age.
  • Reduce food insecurity among all persons by 50%,
  • Reduce food insecurity among children to 0%,
  • Reduce chronic homelessness among all persons to 0%

By 2030:

  • Reduce the PEI poverty rate for 2023 by 50% among all persons.
  • Reduce the PEI poverty rate for 2023 by 100% among children under 18 years of age.
  • Reduce food insecurity among all persons to 0%

By 2035:

  • Reduce the PEI poverty rate for 2029 by 100% among all persons.

By passing this bill, the government commits to eliminating food insecurity among children and halving the provincial rate of food insecurity by 2025. The goal is to eliminate food insecurity in PEI entirely by 2030.[1]

While federal, provincial, and territorial governments have all committed to poverty reduction strategies, only some have any specific, measurable targets (Federal, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and now PEI). Other than PEI, none have declared food insecurity reduction targets or commitments to fully eliminate poverty.

The next steps for PEI should be to re-evaluate their poverty reduction plans and ensure that the actions taken are evidence-based and move them towards these targets.

Statistics Canada measures food insecurity using the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) on the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). The HFSSM consists of 18 questions about the experiences of food insecurity, ranging from worrying about running out of food to going whole days without eating, due to financial constraint.

Food insecurity in PEI

Based on the most recently available data, 14.0% of households in PEI were food-insecure in 2017-2018. This represents approximately 18 900 Islanders.[2]

Households with children under 18 years old are more vulnerable to food insecurity than those without children. In PEI, 19.2% of children lived in food-insecure households. This means that almost 1 in 5 children in the province were in families who could not always afford the food they needed.[2]

Text: 1 in 5 children in PEI live in food-insecure households. Graphic: 5 symbols of children with 1 coloured in red.

Food insecurity is a very serious public health problem. It negatively impacts the health of both children and adults. Research has shown that the health effects of food insecurity go far beyond nutrition and include a wide range of physical and mental health problems.[3][4][5][6] This means food insecurity is also a costly problem for provinces and territories because the health care needs of people who are food insecure place a tremendous burden on our healthcare system.[7]

The need for income-based interventions to reduce food insecurity

The only intervention that has ever been shown to move the needle on food insecurity is income. Research has found reductions in food insecurity where federal or provincial policies have improved the financial circumstances of vulnerable households.[8][9][10]

To reach the target of eliminating food insecurity among children in the next 5 years, all the evidence points to enacting policies and programs that ensure families have enough money to make ends meet.[9][11][12]

There are many ways that provincial policies impact the adequacy and stability of families’ incomes, and therefore food insecurity . Provincial governments are responsible for social assistance, they set minimum wages and employment standards, they deliver social housing programs, they levy taxes and deliver tax credits, and many provide child benefits.

The key to reaching targets for food insecurity reductions are policies that impact households reliant on employment income. These households make up the majority (63.7%) of the food-insecure on the Island.[2] Households relying on low-wage jobs, part-time, temporary, or precarious work, or a single wage earner for multiple people are the most vulnerable.

Reductions in the provincial income tax rate for low-income households and increases to minimum wage could both help reduce food insecurity for these households.[13] PEI increased their minimum wage to $13 per hour earlier this month.[14]

A second important focus for provincial action to reduce food insecurity is social assistance. Across Canada, households relying on social assistance are very likely to be food-insecure. This is especially the case in PEI, where 85.6% of households relying on social assistance were food-insecure in 2017-2018.[2] Evidence from both British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have demonstrated that improvements to social assistance can reduce food insecurity for these households.[8][15]

In a 2018 review of PEI’s social assistance, the Auditor General drew attention to the limited increases in assistance rates and delays in planned increases.[16] Since 2018, PEI has increased social assistance rates, income exemptions, and liquid asset exemptions, to provide those receiving social assistance with more income.[17][18][19]

Increases to minimum wage and social assistance incomes are steps in the right direction given what we know about the need for adequate incomes to reduce food insecurity. It remains to be seen how much these measures improve Islanders’ financial circumstances and affect food insecurity rates, but the new targets provide an important benchmark for assessing the impact and identifying next steps.

Lessons from Newfoundland and Labrador

The only time any jurisdiction has had a major decline in their rate of food insecurity over the past 16 years of monitoring was in Newfoundland and Labrador from 2007 to 2012. The province went from having the highest rate among the provinces in 2007 to having the lowest in 2011 and sustained some of its reductions in 2012.[8]

This decline followed the introduction of a new poverty reduction strategy, one that included eliminating and lowering provincial income taxes for the lowest and mid-low income households, increasing the minimum wage by $4 per hour over 4 years, increasing social assistance rates with indexation to inflation, and increasing liquid asset and income exemptions for social assistances recipients, among other initiatives.[20]

Unfortunately, the tremendous reduction in food insecurity that Newfoundland and Labrador achieved between 2007 and 2012 has not been sustained. In 2017-2018, after 4 years of not measuring food insecurity, Newfoundland and Labrador’s rate had risen substantially.[2] This shift highlights the importance of provinces continually monitoring their food insecurity rates, understanding how their policies and programs affect this problem, and maintaining the interventions that protect households from food insecurity.

An important step forward

PEI takes an important step forward by setting explicit targets for food insecurity reduction. These new targets hold the government accountable for re-evaluating the adequacy of existing supports and introducing new policies that allow all Islanders to make ends meet.  Other provinces and territories should follow their lead and make legislative commitments to reducing food insecurity.


For more information on food insecurity in Canada, see our latest report, Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18.

References

  1. Bell H. Poverty Elimination Strategy Act. Bill 107, Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly (66th General Assembly), 2nd session. 2021. Available from: https://docs.assembly.pe.ca/download/dms?objectId=6a67d1df-3aff-4013-8b78-73fa0dce07f4&fileName=bill-107.pdf
  2. Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2017-2018 [Internet]. Toronto, ON: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF); 2020. Available from: https://proof.utoronto.ca/resources/proof-annual-reports/household-food-insecurity-in-canada-2017-2018/
  3. Tarasuk V, Mitchell A, McLaren L, McIntyre L. Chronic physical and mental health conditions among adults may increase vulnerability to household food insecurity. The Journal of Nutrition. 2013;143(11):1785–93. Available from: https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.113.178483
  4. McIntyre L, Wu X, Kwok C, Patten SB. The pervasive effect of youth self-report of hunger on depression over 6 years of follow up. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2017;52(5):537–47. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-017-1361-5
  5. Jessiman-Perreault G, McIntyre L. The household food insecurity gradient and potential reductions in adverse population mental health outcomes in Canadian adults. SSM – Population Health. 2017;3:464–72. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352827316301410
  6. Men F, Gundersen C, Urquia ML, Tarasuk V. Association between household food insecurity and mortality in Canada: a population-based retrospective cohort study. CMAJ. 2020;192(3):E53–60. Available from: https://www.cmaj.ca/content/192/3/E53
  7. Men F, Gundersen C, Urquia ML, Tarasuk V. Food insecurity is associated with higher health care use and costs among Canadian adults. Health Affairs. 2020;39(8):1377–85. Available from: http://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2019.01637
  8. Loopstra R, Dachner N, Tarasuk V. An exploration of the unprecedented decline in the prevalence of household food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador, 2007–2012. Canadian Public Policy. 2015;41(3):191–206. Available from: https://utpjournals.press/doi/10.3138/cpp.2014-080
  9. Brown EM, Tarasuk V. Money speaks: Reductions in severe food insecurity follow the Canada Child Benefit. Preventive Medicine. 2019;129. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743519303524
  10. McIntyre L, Dutton DJ, Kwok C, Emery JCH. Reduction of food insecurity among low-income Canadian seniors as a likely impact of a guaranteed annual income. Canadian Public Policy. 2016;42(3):274–86. Available from: https://utpjournals.press/doi/10.3138/cpp.2015-069
  11. Tarasuk V, Li N, Dachner N, Mitchell A. Household food insecurity in Ontario during a period of poverty reduction, 2005–2014. Canadian Public Policy. 2019;45(1):93–104. Available from: https://utpjournals.press/doi/10.3138/cpp.2018-054
  12. Ionescu-Ittu R, Glymour MM, Kaufman JS. A difference-in-differences approach to estimate the effect of income-supplementation on food insecurity. Preventive Medicine. 2015;70:108–16. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743514004605
  13. Men F, Urquia ML, Tarasuk V. The role of provincial social policies and economic environments in shaping food insecurity among Canadian families with children. Preventive Medicine. 2021;148:106558. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743521001420
  14. Government of Prince Edward Island. Minimum Wage Order (Board and Lodging) [Internet]. Prince Edward Island. 2015;Available from: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/economic-growth-tourism-and-culture/minimum-wage-order-board-and-lodging
  15. Li N, Dachner N, Tarasuk V. The impact of changes in social policies on household food insecurity in British Columbia, 2005–2012. Preventive Medicine. 2016;93:151–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743516303048
  16. MacAdam J. Report to the Legislative Assembly 2018 [Internet]. Charlottetown, PE: Office of the Auditor General; 2018. Available from: https://www.assembly.pe.ca/sites/www.assembly.pe.ca/files/2018-AG-ar.pdf
  17. Government of Prince Edward Island. Social Assistance Renewal [Internet]. Prince Edward Island. 2018;Available from: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/family-and-human-services/social-assistance-renewal. Accessed 2021-04-20.
  18. Government of Prince Edward Island. New initiatives to help all Islanders participate and thrive [Internet]. Prince Edward Island. 2018;Available from: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/news/new-initiatives-help-all-islanders-participate-and-thrive. Accessed 2021-04-20.
  19. Government of Prince Edward Island. Social assistance rates increasing across the Island [Internet]. Prince Edward Island. 2019;Available from: https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/news/social-assistance-rates-increasing-across-the-island. Accessed 2021-04-20.
  20. Newfoundland and Labrador. Reducing poverty: an action plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. St. John’s, Nfld: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; 2006. Available from: https://www.deslibris.ca/ID/205006

PROOF investigator appointed to Order of Canada

Lynn McIntyre Portrait

Lynn McIntyre, Professor Emerita of Community Health Sciences, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, and a founding PROOF investigator, has been appointed to the Order of Canada for her influential research on health equity and food insecurity, and for her contributions to public health policies in Canada.

Over her career, Lynn’s research has been focused on influencing policy that will reduce household level food insecurity in Canada. Her most recent work examined the framing of food insecurity in public discourse and policy arenas. Lynn’s preferred policy solution for household food insecurity in Canada has become Basic Income and to this end, she remains actively associated with groups like the Basic Income Canada Network.

Congratulations to Lynn on this momentous achievement!

 

Food banks can’t adequately address COVID-19 food insecurity

A basic income, not expanded food charity, is critical as the pandemic plunges more Canadians into deprivation.

By Valerie Tarasuk, Lynn McIntyre


When the Prime Minister announced $100 million to support food banks and other community food programs during COVID-19, he was throwing aside everything we know about food insecurity in Canada. We know it is a large and very serious public health problem rooted in inadequate, insecure incomes. It cannot be solved by charitable food assistance. But in the announcement on April 3, which came after a series of innovative, generous and timely income support announcements for workers and businesses, Justin Trudeau called upon food charity volunteers and encouraged an expansion of programs that provide food rather than income for Canadians facing arguably the most extreme financial hardship during the pandemic.

Canada’s COVID-19 response has emphasized the importance of science in directing decision making.  Yet, food charity, an old idea that has never been able to adequately respond to food insecurity in Canada, has been brought to the fore as a sound solution. The evidence-based alternative to food charity is basic income, and this is the time for its implementation.

Food insecurity was bad before COVID-19. It is unquestionably worse now, as it will be in the post-COVID-19 recessionary future. Through national monitoring we know that in 2017-18, more than 4.4 million people were living in food-insecure households – the highest estimate to date. Food insecurity is a measure of people’s abilities to afford the food they need. It indicates a serious level of material deprivation. Food-insecure households struggle to cover the costs of all kinds of basic needs including rent, utilities, and prescription medications, day in and day out. Food insecurity is already a serious public health problem. Food-insecure Canadians are much more likely than others to have serious physical and mental health problems, and they are less able to manage these conditions. In the course of a year, severely food-insecure adults burn up more than double the health care dollars of the rest of us. They also die earlier – we estimated that severe food insecurity shaves 9 years off the life of adults in this country.

Without effective responses to the additional hardships brought on by COVID-19, the number of people affected by food insecurity and the levels of deprivation they face are going to get a whole lot worse. And the health implications of being food-insecure will become even more dire. So, mounting an effective response now is critical.

Over the last two decades, we and others have done a lot of research to figure out who is most at risk of food insecurity in Canada and why. This problem has nothing to do with food skills or shopping behaviours. Food insecurity is the product of inadequate, insecure incomes and a lack of assets. Prior to the pandemic, almost two-thirds of food-insecure households in Canada were reliant on income from employment. Many were in low-wage, short-term, part-time, precarious work. Any loss of income or rise in expenses for these workers and their families will make their situations worse. At the same time, job losses will plunge more people into food insecurity, as those with limited resources are unable to buffer this income shock.

We have also studied policy interventions that reduce food insecurity through deliberate poverty-reduction programming and the examination of food insecurity before and after policy changes. What moves the needle on food insecurity in Canada is interventions that a) reach low-income households whatever their income source, and b) improve their financial resources in an ongoing way. Examples include our public old-age pensions, the Canada Child Benefit, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s poverty reduction strategy.

Before COVID-19, the number of food-insecure people in Canada (4.4 million) was four times the number being helped by food banks. Seeking food charity is a strategy of last resort, most commonly used by people struggling to cope with severe levels of deprivation, but even among this group, most do not use food banksNor has food bank use risen as a strategy of choice over time.

Concerns about the institutionalization of food banks and their lack of effectiveness as a solution to food insecurity have been written about for decades. While the widespread public perception is that they must do some good, we have no evidence to suggest that the people who use food banks are better off than those who don’t. There are many reasons for this, only one of which is the limited assistance food banks can provide. Importantly, the needs of people who can’t afford enough to eat go way beyond food. Help from food banks has never been enough to fully meet the needs of those who use them, and this imbalance can only be intensifying now.

Image of skyscrapers with words "food insecurity" on them. A small truck with a short ladder labelled "food bank" is on the road, representing the disconnect between food insecurity and food bank use.
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Sarah Anne Charlebois, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Hub Solutions)

The newly announced Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will offer income support for up to 16 weeks to some of those who lose pay because of the pandemic. But its coverage and impact for households at risk of food insecurity are questionable. Calculations of basic living costs (in Alberta or Nova Scotia, for example) suggest that $2,000 may be insufficient to cover food, shelter, prescription medications, and other necessities for a month. This will matter less to recipients in households with other resources (the income of a spouse or parent, for example). But as a sole source of sustenance, the CERB is dangerously small.

People who are forced to turn to social assistance because they fail to qualify for CERB or any other income support program will find themselves in even more perilous situations. Pre-COVID-19, almost two-thirds of households reliant on social assistance were food insecure. The gross inadequacies of social assistance programs in Canada will spiral upwards now as basic living costs rise – even as more people are forced to apply for this assistance.

We are focusing on income support programs of last resort – CERB and social assistance – because that is what matters now for people who are unable to make ends meet through employment, savings, or other resources. There have been several initiatives announced under the federal government’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan to support individuals who have been temporarily displaced from the workforce and to assist businesses and non-profits directly and indirectly, through tax postponement and wage subsidies. These levers are designed to sustain and eventually stimulate the economy in the relaunch phase post-pandemic. They must not be confused with the measure required to enable people to meet basic needs, namely a stable, adequate income.

As conditions worsen for the most vulnerable people in this country, we badly need effective responses. This means enabling those on the margins to meet their basic needs by ensuring that they have adequate, secure incomes – not trying to patch together these needs through haphazard charitable gestures and wage subsidies and emergency benefits implemented to address other objectives. Such efforts will not be enough to manage the escalating vulnerability of the millions of Canadians facing food insecurity. Now is surely the time to implement a basic income that is available to all. This means setting an income floor that is sufficient to meet basic needs and below which no one is allowed to fall. It’s the only way to ensure that no one is left behind.


This article was first published in Policy Options (April 28, 2020).

More Canadians are food insecure than ever before – and the problem is only getting worse

Today, PROOF, an interdisciplinary research program investigating household food insecurity in Canada, provides a long-awaited look into the current state of food insecurity in this country.

Drawing on data for 103,500 households from Statistics Canada’s 2017-18 Canadian Community Health Survey, we found that 1 in 8 households were food insecure. This represents 4.4 million people, the largest number recorded since Canada began monitoring food insecurity. And this number is an underestimate. The survey sample does not include people living on First Nations reserves, people in some remote northern areas, or people who are homeless – i.e., three groups at high risk of food insecurity.

 

What is food insecurity?

Household food insecurity refers to the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints. The experiences assessed to determine a household’s ‘food security status’ range from concerns about running out of food before there is more money to buy more, to the inability to afford a balanced diet, to going hungry, missing meals, and in extreme cases, not eating for whole days because of a lack of food and money for food.

Taken at face value, these questions suggest that food insecurity is a food problem – resolvable by programs that provide food for free or make it more accessible and affordable. But this misses the bigger picture. The deprivation experienced by food-insecure households is not limited to food. By the time people are struggling to put food on the table because of a lack of money, they are having trouble meeting all kinds of other expenses. Food-insecure households compromise spending on all kinds of necessities, including housing and prescription medications.

Who is food insecure?

Those most at risk are households with low incomes and limited assets (indicated on this survey by renting rather than owning your housing). Indigenous and Black households are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity, a finding reflective of the potent effects of colonialism and structural racism in Canada.

About 60% of households who report their main source of income as social assistance were food insecure. While not new, the finding is a stark reminder of the inadequacy of our ‘income support program of last resort’. Many of those who manage to qualify for income assistance cannot meet their basic needs. Almost one-third of those households reliant on Employment Insurance (EI) or Workers’ Compensation were also food-insecure, raising questions about the adequacy of these supports.

While the risk of food insecurity is greatest for households reliant on social assistance, EI or Workers’ Compensation, it is important to note that two-thirds of the households reported their main source of income as salaries or wages. Food insecurity is a serious problem for working Canadians.

Food-insecure households’ main source of income

Although 84% of people affected by food insecurity live in either Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, or British Columbia, there are clear geographic disparities in food insecurity rates. Food insecurity is much more prevalent in Nunavut than any other part of Canada. 57% of households in Nunavut reported some level of food insecurity and almost half of these households were severely food insecure (meaning that members experienced absolute food deprivation). The lowest prevalence of household food insecurity was 11% in Quebec. In fact, Quebec was the only place in Canada where the prevalence of food insecurity fell significantly between 2015-16 and 2017-18.

Household Food Insecurity by Province and Territory

Data source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), 2017-18.

Food insecurity is more common among households with children than those without. 17% of children under 18, or more than 1 in 6, lived in a family that experienced food insecurity. Across Canada, this rate ranged from a low of 15% in British Columbia to a high of 79% in Nunavut. The families most at risk were those headed by lone-parent women; one-third were food-insecure.

Food insecurity is a health problem.

It matters that 1 in 8 Canadian households were food-insecure in 2017-18 because such deprivation has profound negative effects on people’s health. The research on the relationship between food insecurity and health is unequivocal. Among children, exposure to severe food insecurity has been linked to the subsequent development of a variety of chronic health conditions, including asthma and depression. Adults in food-insecure households have higher rates of a wide variety of chronic diseases, including mental health problems, arthritis, asthma, and diabetes. They are also more likely to die prematurely. By our best estimate, adults in severely food-insecure households in Canada die 9 years sooner than the rest of us.

Because of its toxic effects on health, household food insecurity also places a substantial burden on our health care system.

How can we solve this problem?

  1. We must address its root causes – food programs are not the solution.

The persistently high prevalence of household food insecurity across Canada highlights the need for more effective, evidence-based responses. To date, there have been lots of federal, provincial, territorial, and local initiatives to support community food programs, including the federal government’s Local Food Infrastructure Fund launched last year. But food programs can’t fix the problem of household food insecurity that has been documented in this report.

  1. Governments must re-evaluate the adequacy of income supports and protections for low-income Canadians.

Tackling the conditions that give rise to food insecurity means re-evaluating the adequacy of the income supports and protections that are currently provided to very low-income, working-aged Canadians and their families. For example, our recent study of the Canada Child Benefit suggests that this new federal benefit reduced severe food insecurity among low-income families with children, but it did not make them food-secure. The high rate of food insecurity among families with children points to a need to review the benefit amounts for low-income families (i.e., those most vulnerable to food insecurity) to ensure that they are adequately supported to meet basic needs. Other federal programs like the Canada Workers Benefit also need to be reviewed to ensure that they are as effective as they can be in protecting low-income Canadians from food insecurity.

  1. Governments must design programs and policies in ways that ensure that vulnerable, low-income households have sufficient funds to make ends meet.

While federal leadership is imperative, provincial and territorial governments’ engagement in policies to reduce food insecurity is also critical. Given that the provinces and territories are responsible for health care, they bear the costs of food insecurity insofar as it increases people’s needs for health services. There are clear differences in food insecurity prevalence across the provinces and territories and within some jurisdictions (notably Quebec) over time. The effects of specific provincial/territorial policies on food insecurity rates warrant much more evaluation. What is known suggests that provincial and territorial government actions matter. Many important policy levers rest with the provinces and territories. They are responsible for social assistance, they set minimum wages and employment standards, they deliver social housing programs, they levy taxes and deliver tax credits, and many provide child benefits.

It’s time to recognize food insecurity is a serious public health problem in Canada, a problem that is only getting worse. Without deliberate, evidence-based policy interventions by federal, provincial and territorial governments, this problem will continue to fester.

For more information, see the Food Insecurity in Canada, 2017-18 report

New Research – Money speaks: Reductions in severe food insecurity follow the Canada Child Benefit

The rate of severe food insecurity dropped by one-third among low-income families after the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) in 2016, researchers from the University of Toronto have found.

The study is the first to look at the CCB’s impact on food insecurity, defined as the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraint.

“Our study results are yet another piece of evidence that improving household incomes reduces food insecurity,” says Valerie Tarasuk, a researcher at U of T’s Joannah & Brian Lawson Centre for Child Nutrition and the senior author on the study.

“If you give poor families more money, they spend it on basic necessities like food – and the more desperate they are, the more likely they are to do this.”

The journal Preventive Medicine published the results, which also reveal that while the benefit disproportionately affected low-income families, it did little to eradicate food insecurity altogether.

The muted effect is not surprising, the researchers say.

“I think the impact on family food insecurity was limited because the benefit was not designed with this outcome in mind,” says Tarasuk, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences in the Faculty of Medicine who is cross-appointed to the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “To have a stronger impact on food insecurity, the government would need to put more money in the hands of the lowest-income families, which would be completely consistent with the intent of their federal poverty reduction strategy.”

Continue reading the U of T News article

Access the Journal article

How Do You Save Four Million Canadians From Hunger?

On March 6 2019, The Walrus magazine published the article How Do You Save Four Million Canadians From Hunger?, relying on PROOF research to breakdown the problem of food insecurity in Canada. PROOF Principal Investigator, Valerie Tarasuk,is quoted and the article goes on to argue that fixing the food insecurity crisis requires thinking of food as a human right.

Click here to read the full article

Food insecurity featured in Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy

On August 21, 2018, Minister Duclos released Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy. The Strategy introduced an Official Poverty Line for Canada and announced targets for poverty reduction based on this measure. As part of the Strategy, the federal government will develop an online dashboard of indicators to publicly track progress on selected measures of poverty. Food insecurity is included as one of these indicators. This inclusion will highlight the importance of regularly monitoring and reporting on data from the Household Food Security Survey Module. Food insecurity’s role in the Strategy is an important step forward in the federal government’s recognition of food insecurity as a measure of material deprivation that is sensitive to social policies aimed at poverty reduction.

The full Strategy document can be accessed here.