A new report finds that almost half a million people are experiencing some level of household food insecurity in British Columbia.
Described as the inability to afford nutritionally adequate and safe foods, food insecurity means worrying about being able to feed one’s family, sometimes skipping or scrimping on meals in order to cut costs, or at its most extreme, not eating at all.
The lack of access to proper nutrition has a significant impact on health and well-being. Numerous studies have shown the link between food insecurity and an array of mental and physical ailments, ranging from diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension to anxiety and depression. The effects of food insecurity on children is especially troubling. Research has shown that the lack of access to adequate nutrition can lead to increased hospitalizations, iron deficiency, developmental risks, lower academic performance and behavioural problems such as aggression and attention deficit disorder.
The new report says more than one in ten B.C. households (11.8 per cent) experience food insecurity, with those in northern B.C. faring worst at one in six households listed as food insecure. Households with children – those led by single mothers in particular – were found to be at the highest risk for food insecurity.
Produced by the Provincial Health Services Authority and PROOF, a research group advocating for policy on food insecurity in Canada, the report is described as the first of its kind in B.C.. Brent Mansfield, Director of the B.C. Food Systems Network, described the report as “an important first step for the province because it lays bare the extent of food insecurity in B.C. and pinpoints areas of particular vulnerability. We hope the next step will be policy action to lower these numbers.”
Across the country, an estimated 8.3 per cent of Canadian households are said to experience some degree of food insecurity, based on the most recent federal data from the years 2011-2012. Nunavut was found to have the highest rate of food insecurity at a shocking 36.7 per cent, over four times the Canadian average.
Roughly three quarters (76.0 per cent) of families in B.C. where social assistance is the main source of income were found to be food insecure. At the same time, the majority (65 per cent) of food insecure households were found to be supported by wages and salaries, indicating that a significant group of B.C.’s working poor are finding it difficult to put food on the table.
With the province set to raise the minimum wage on September 15 to $10.85 per hour, up from $10.45 per hour, (the lowest among the ten provinces) poverty advocates are demanding a more significant raise -up to $15 per hour, according to the B.C. Federation of Labour. Their campaign, “Fight for 15” argues that B.C.’s “poverty story” centres on the working poor, for whom even full-time hours are not enough to make ends meet because of unfairly low wages.
Irene Lanzinger, head of the B.C. Federation of Labour, has said that the new increase in minimum wage won’t suffice to help those in need. “Unfortunately, the B.C. Liberals are still not taking the steps needed to lift a person working full time above the poverty line,” says Lanzinger. “This is just one more missed opportunity for the premier and the government to do what’s right.”