Food costs grow more than wages

Healthy eat­ing bas­ket cost edges up in area, as other ex­penses, stag­nant in­comes add to prob­lem


The cost of healthy eat­ing con­tin­ues to rise in Grey-Bruce, leav­ing more res­i­dents at risk of food in­se­cu­rity and sus­cep­ti­ble to sig­nif­i­cant health risks.

The 2018 Nu­tri­tious Food Bas­ket sur­vey says that a fam­ily of four re­quires $204.16 each week to meet ba­sic food needs, up 55 cents from 2017.

Laura Need­ham, pub­lic health di­eti­tian with the Grey Bruce Health Unit, said Fri­day that gen­er­ally each year they don’t see a big jump in costs to the food bas­ket -made up of 67 set items in­clud­ing plain, raw in­gre­di­ents such as fresh pro­duce, meats and other goods -but it is the lit­tle things that keep adding up.

“The cost of food re­ally isn’t the prob­lem when it comes to food in­se­cu­rity, it is the fact that in­comes are stag­nant,” Need­ham said Fri­day. “Yes, our cost of liv­ing keeps go­ing up and it is re­ally in com­par­i­son to in­comes where it be­comes a prob­lem.”

On Fri­day the health unit re­leased fig­ures show­ing the chal­lenges those in Grey-Bruce liv­ing on On­tario Works and Old Age Se­cu­rity face each month.

A fam­ily of four re­ceiv­ing $2,549 in On­tario Works pay­ing an av­er­age monthly rent of $945 and food costs of $884 are left with $753 to cover all ba­sic liv­ing ex­penses, in­clud­ing travel, util­i­ties, toi­letries, cloth­ing, recre­ation and en­ter­tain­ment.

For a sin­gle per­son re­ceiv­ing $794 in On­tario Works, pay­ing the av­er­age rent of $604 with $297 in food costs, has them al­ready in the red $91 be­fore pay­ing for any other ba­sic needs.

“We look at so­cial sup­port and see there is not ex­tra fund­ing go­ing into that,” said Need­ham. “Those rates are stay­ing stag­nant, our in­comes are stay­ing stag­nant, but our costs keep go­ing up so peo­ple have less and less to work with.”

And in­di­ca­tions are that food costs will con­tinue to go up. Canada’s Food Price Re­port 2019 re­cently pre­dicted that the av­er­age Cana­dian fam­ily is ex­pected to spend an ex­tra $411 on food in 2019.

Need­ham said that doesn’t bode well for fam­i­lies that are al­ready food in­se­cure. Statis­tics show that one in five chil­dren across Grey and Bruce coun­ties live in a low­in­come house­hold, while 6.5 per cent of house­holds some­times or of­ten run out of food be­fore they can af­ford to buy more.

Need­ham said those that can’t af­ford healthy food are more likely to have chronic dis­eases such as some can­cers, hy­per­ten­sion, di­a­betes and heart dis­ease and are more likely to de­velop mental health problems like de­pres­sion, so­cial ex­clu­sion and anx­i­ety.

“It is some­thing that pub­lic health needs to act on,” said Need­ham.

Food char­i­ties such as food banks, good food boxes and stu­dent nu­tri­tion pro­grams can fill stom­achs for a short time and re­spond to the im­me­di­ate need for hunger, but they aren’t a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion, Need­ham said.

“It is lim­ited by the re­sources that are do­nated ba­si­cally,” said Need­ham. “Food char­ity isn’t go­ing to be the so­lu­tion. We need to see pol­icy change.”

One pro­gram the health unit has ad­vo­cated for in the past with re­gards to food se­cu­rity is a ba­sic in­come pro­gram, which en­sures all com­mu­nity mem­bers have ac­cess to a min­i­mum in­come level, which could then be used to buy food.

In the spring, On­tario’s Liberal gov­ern­ment started a ba­sic in­come pilot in the Hamilton, Thun­der Bay and Lindsay ar­eas, but af­ter June’s pro­vin­cial elec­tion, the new Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment an­nounced the can­cel­la­tion of the pilot, ef­fec­tive March 2019.

“The ba­sic in­come was a re­ally pos­i­tive move and some­thing we ad­vo­cated for for years,” said Need­ham. “To see the pilot can­celled be­fore we had even been able to get any qual­ity data from it is dis­ap­point­ing.”

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