In case you missed them, the recent food bank usage numbers are staggering. Compiling data from March 2011, Food Banks Canada’s Hunger Count found that Food Banks across the country served 851, 014 people, or about 2.5% of the total population.
The Hunger Count is an important tool in gauging the social landscape of our country. Unfortunately, the numbers are not good. Some key findings for the Maritime provinces are as follows.
The number of people who have visited Food Banks is significant, 2.39% of Nova Scotians, 2.46% of New Brunswickers and 2.16% of Prince Edward Islanders. Consider those statistics while walking through the mall or sitting on the bus for your morning commute. Of every 50 people you see, it is likely that more than one has sought help from a Food Bank.
Next time you visit the Halifax Metro Centre, take a look around. The number of people assisted by Food Banks in Nova Scotia alone could fill all the stands and skyboxes 2 ¼ times.
Not surprisingly, recent years have been characterized by serious increases in Food Bank usage. Since 2008, the number of people who visited a Food Bank in Prince Edward Island increased by 7%, the number who visited in New Brunswick increased 18.6%, and the number who visited in Nova Scotia increased by an astounding 33%.
Recipients of social assistance comprise a large number of those forced to frequent Food Banks. In Prince Edward Island 39.3% of Food Bank attendees are recipients of social assistance. This number is dwarfed by those of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, whose Food Bank clientele are 59.4% and 65.6% recipients of social assistance. The levels of assistance offered leave recipients well below any ‘poverty line’. What’s even more astonishing is the number of people visiting Food Banks whose primary source of income is employment. About 10% of those assisted in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia live primarily off of earned income. The number in Prince Edward Island is nearly twice that. These are hard-working people who are simply not paid enough to make ends meet.
Recent Food Bank trends are indicative of what has happened in the social landscape of the Maritime Provinces over past years. With struggling economies and cuts to public programs, more and more Maritimers are un/under-employed and unable to survive on the meagre services available. The jobs that have been created of late are largely in the low-wage sphere, creating a cycle of poverty that forces hard-working people to seek assistance at Food Banks.
What was set up as a temporary solution is a disgraceful reminder of the need for a different approach to helping those living in poverty –one that gets at the root causes.
In the words of Food Banks Canada:
We have the opportunity to create real change in the lives of vulnerable Canadians, and to help those currently being left behind to become healthy, productive, full members of society. To turn away from this challenge will be a wasted opportunity.