Hunger Crisis: Report of the Hunger Inquiry. Report from the Recession Relief Coalition, 2011.
Did you know that every month over 80 000 people become new clients of Canadian food banks? In March 2010, 867, 948 people accessed a food bank in Canada. Moreover, this number likely grossly underestimates the number of men, women, and children that go hungry every day.
On November 23, 2010, the Recession Relief Coalition (RRC), a Toronto-based group of organizations and individuals concerned about the impact of the recession on Canadas most vulnerable and marginalized residents, held a one day conference/inquiry in downtown Toronto. This diverse group, including people who have experienced hunger, researchers who study the social phenomena of hunger, and social service providers, came together to closely examine the issue of hunger and provide solutions to an issue that affects thousands of Canadians.
Hunger Crisis: Report of the Hunger Inquiry contains the findings of this one day conference. The report provides a self-described snapshot of the conference proceedings and includes proposed causal information about the phenomena of hunger and the panellists proposed practical and policy based solutions to hunger.
The report begins with background information on hunger in Canada. The conference addressed the incidence of hunger with a keynote presentation by Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. Dr. Tarasuk notes that food insecurity in Canada, ranges in severity from worry and anxiety over where the next meal will come from, to an inability to eat an appropriate variety and quantity of food, to skipping meals, and finally, experiencing absolute food deprivation. Most notably, Dr. Tarasuk commented there is no need for further study as there is clear evidence that food insecurity in Canada is closely tied to problems of low-income.
Conference presentations addressed the following issues:
- Hunger and Chronic Disease
Speakers presented evidence that Diabetes, Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS are integrally linked to low income and that diseases require adequate diet to maintain health. However, cuts to Ontario Works and other social welfare systems have drastically hampered the ability of individuals with these chronic illnesses to access and purchase adequate food, as a result of cut-backs to the Ontario governments Special Diet Allowance.
- Problems with Access to Nutritious Food
Conference participants noted four specific difficulties:
The Structural Causes of Hunger
- Inadequate quantities of food (specifically at food banks)
- Poor quality food (food is often outdated or spoiled)
- Stigma associated with having to rely on charitable food sources
- Food deserts - neighbourhoods lacking affordable grocery stores
Speakers provided observations about chief causes of hunger:
- Inadequate income support programs
- Policy changes to social assistance programs
- Cutbacks to non food related programs, such as winter clothing allowances and back-to-school allowances, that effectively leave families short of money for food
- Cuts to federal Employment Insurance
- Increased housing costs
Conference participants proposed solutions to counter the problem of hunger in Ontario. Low income was the most commonly noted cause of hunger and proposed solutions focused predominantly on raising incomes. Proposed solutions include:
The conference concluded with participants developing a set of 27 recommendations around 6 major themes. The themes are directed at a diverse group of stakeholders at policy and social levels, and each theme is accompanied by concrete solutions to prevent and counter hunger. The six themes are:
- Increase the provincial social assistance rate by at least $100 per month.
- Legislate an adequate minimum wage and pressure employers to provide a living wage
- Legislate to prevent cuts to the Special Diet Allowances
- Make Ontarios income support programs less demeaning and intrusive
- Set a federal guaranteed annual income (GAI)
- Improve access to Employment Insurance
- Raise incomes and invest in income security programs
- Increase access to adequate, affordable housing
- Consider access to good, nutritious food in community and urban planning
- Improve access to and quality of emergency community food programs
- Recognize poverty and hunger as major risk factors for physical and mental health issues
- Respect human dignity when addressing the elimination of hunger
These recommendations note the importance of ensuring people
have the purchasing power required to obtain nutritious food, rather than relying
on charitable donations. The 27 proposed
recommendations can be accessed directly from the report (see full report).
Overall, this report can serve as a credible source of
evidence about the nature of hunger and food instability. The conferences
findings can be directly transferable to our population here in Edmonton and
Alberta. The proposed solutions have a
breadth that spans national and provincial governmental policy to direct urban
planning initiatives. Additionally, the report includes a list of conference
speakers and a very useful and comprehensive citation list.
Review by Leah Phillips