Nov 19, 2009

Food Bank use takes a distressing jump


On Tuesday, Food Banks Canada (the national association of food banks) released its annual Hunger Count report. While the report received some good national coverage (particularly on CBC), I was surprised to see no mention of it in the Vancouver Sun.

The report, which surveys food banks across the country every March, found that in March 2009, food bank use was up nearly 18% nationally, and 15% in BC –– the largest single-year jump and the highest number of people assisted on record.  81% of BC food banks reported an increase in demand in 2009. Of the nearly 90,000 British Columbians who relied on food banks that month, 31% were children, 12% reported employment income, 6% were on EI, 19% were receiving disability-related income support, and 44% were receiving social assistance (yet more proof that our welfare system is structurally dependent on food banks and other charities for people to meet their basic food needs).

Food bank usage had been in decline since 2004, until this year. And so, this report provides important evidence of the impact of the recession. We won’t have up-to-date poverty statistics for another year or so, so reports like this provide an early glimpse of how vulnerable people are impacted by the downturn.

If we are going to end hunger in our society, charity alone is not going to get the job done. We need an income support system and wages that ensure people can meet basic needs. And the report provides yet more evidence that both BC and Canada need comprehensive poverty reduction plans, something Food Banks Canada itself calls for in this report.