ONTARIO — The Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) released its 2018 Hunger Report today which revealed 501,590 individuals turned to a food bank last year alone. While the number of individuals accessing food banks is only marginally higher than the previous year, the report finds a staggering 10 percent increase in the number of senior citizens requiring emergency food and support, a growth rate nearly three times faster than that of Ontario’s senior population.
“There are a number of contributing factors to this emerging trend,” says Michael Maidment, Chair of the OAFB Board of Directors. “One of the most significant being the rising cost of housing and the challenges related to trying to balance this expense while living on a fixed income.”
The report finds that 74 percent of seniors accessing food banks are either rental or social housing tenants, and that only 10 percent own their homes, compared to 77 percent of seniors in the general population. Further, the report finds that the value of government transfers to seniors has remained stagnant while the cost of living has continued to rise. As a result, more seniors have started to fall below the poverty line and turn to food banks for assistance when their retirement savings and benefits fall short of meeting their monthly expenses.
“Beyond the challenge of trying to balance a stagnant income against the rising cost of living, the increase in seniors accessing food banks reflects significant changes in the job market that have taken place over the last three decades,” says Maidment.
The report points to both a decline in secure employment and employer-provided pension programs in favour of precarious work and contract positions as one of the reasons that adults have struggled, or are struggling, to buy a home or hold onto savings. It also highlights a recent poll by CIBC which found that 32 percent of Canadians between 45 and 65 years of age have nothing saved for retirement.
“Stagnant wages and unpredictable incomes mean more adults and families have no other choice but to spend their savings during rough patches,” says Maidment. “This creates a ripple effect that often extends into their later years, as low-income adults that are unable to save for retirement are more likely to experience poverty as seniors.”
While the report recognizes the investments made by the federal government into retirement benefits like Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, it also discusses barriers related to accessing these programs. The Guaranteed Income Supplement, for example, is only available to senior citizens that file their taxes annually, which means that those who do not have access to tax clinics or services, cannot afford tax help, or who struggle with mobility issues or illness, can easily become ineligible for this income, particularly as they age.
To help assist the growing number of seniors accessing hunger-relief services, many food banks have started offering specialized programs, such as meal delivery services, tax clinics, mobile markets, and diet-specific foods to help meet their needs. Provincially, the Ontario Association of Food Banks is calling on the Government of Ontario to implement policies that address the root causes of hunger, including investments in affordable housing and the commitments outlined in the National Housing Strategy.
The Ontario Association of Food Banks is also calling on the Government of Canada to improve the support available to Canadian seniors by removing the barriers that make accessing each benefit difficult or impossible for those that need it most. Further, the Ontario Association of Food Banks recommends that the Government of Canada assume oversight of Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot as a possible evidence-based solution to poverty and trends related to a changing workforce.
“Ontario’s food banks work tirelessly to serve half a million adults, children, and seniors every year, but they cannot do it alone,” says Maidment. “We believe that our vision of ending hunger and poverty in Ontario is shared by all levels of government, and that this problem can be solved by working together.”
2018 Hunger Report Highlights and Trends
- Hunger by the Numbers
- 501,590 adults, children, and seniors accessed food banks across Ontario between April 1, 2017 – March 31, 2018
- Ontario’s food banks were visited 2,935,476 times during the same period
- 49 percent of individuals visited the food bank three times or less, with only 14 percent visiting 12 or more times per year. Seniors are more likely to require ongoing support, with 25 percent of this demographic visiting 12 or more times per year.
- 52 percent of households served by food banks identified as single-person households, with 89 percent being rental or social housing tenants, and 65 percent citing social assistance as their primary source of income
- 33 percent of food bank visitors were children under 18 years of age
- Rise in Senior Hunger
- 10 percent increase in the number of seniors accessing Ontario’s food banks over the previous year, a rate nearly three times faster than the growth of Ontario’s senior population
- 25 percent of seniors accessing food banks visit 12 or more times per year, compared to 13 percent of food bank visitors under 65 years of age
- 46 percent of seniors that require the support of a food bank also cite old age pension as their primary source of income
- 10 percent of seniors that access hunger-relief services own their home, compared to 77 percent of seniors in the general population; 74 percent of seniors that visit food banks are rental or social housing tenants
- The OAFB points to a number of growing trends that could be contributing to this increase, including:
- A decline in employer provided pension programs over the last 30 years
- The challenges adults face in trying to save for retirement or invest in homeownership, due to the rise in precarious employment and contract work
- A decline in the value of government benefits when compared to the rising cost of living, and barriers that make it difficult for many seniors to obtain these benefits
- How Food Banks Help
- Food banks offer fresh, healthy food and a diverse range of programs, depending on the community. In Ontario, these programs include rental and housing supplements, tax clinics and assistance with government forms, meal deliveries and mobile services for those that cannot access the food bank, community cafes, and workshops.
To download a full copy of the 2018 Hunger Report, or to find out more about food banks in Ontario, please visit: www.oafb.ca/hunger-report