Food Banks Booming in Manitoba
Many busineses or organizations would be excited to see their clientele grow by over 20% in a single year. The same, however, cannot be said for food banks and, unfortunately, Manitoba food banks can say exactly that. Between 2009 and 2010, food bank used in Manitoba increased by 21.0% – an increase of just over 10,000 additional people per month. There are now 57,966 people per month using Manitoba foodbanks. This is not only over twice the national increase in food bank use, it is also the largest increase in food bank use in Canada. Sadly, Manitoba also has the highest rate of children using the food bank – 50.5% of food bank users in Manitoba are children.
Every year, Food Banks Canada publishes Hunger Count, which counts the number of people using the food bank each March. In my blog on the release of the 2009 report, I wrote that perhaps it was time that we started to talk about a “hunger crisis” in Canada. At the time, we were in the midst of the “H1N1 crisis” and the “economic crisis” – both of which attracted significant government resources. But governments did not seem to be as urgent about addressing hunger in Canada.
Interestingly, Manitoba has been feted for having one of the most stable economies through the recession. Unlike manufacturing provinces such as Ontario or resource rich provinces like Alberta, Manitoba did not experience massive lay offs or economic declines. Yes, there were problems here too, but not nearly to the same extent as elsewhere. In fact, according to Hunger Count, Manitoba had the second lowest unemployment rate and the second highest rate of GDP growth. So all should have been well in Manitoba. But some how, 4.7% of Manitobans needed a food bank in March – that’s one in every 20 people, the second highest rate in the country.
One reason highlighted by Hunger Count is that part time employment has increased in Manitoba while full time employment has decreased. A second, and very important factor, was that rates of Employment and Income Assistance were not nearly high enough to cover costs. A single person would have to use 95% of their benefit to afford a one bedroom apartment. It is little wonder then that people are unable to afford food.
The report does see some positive developments in the Government of Manitoba’s $950 million per year All Aboard poverty reduction strategy – and it will be interesting to see in coming years if the strategy does have a significant impact on food bank use rates. This will likely depend on what kinds of programs, supports, and policies it includes over the long run.
In the meanwhile, Manitoba’s record on hunger is an embarrassment for our province. The rapid rise of food bank use, the high rate of children relying on the food bank, and the consistently high per capita food bank use rate are major challenges for our province to address. Other provinces suffered far worse economic declines but experienced smaller increases in their food bank use rate. Reducing the use of food banks in our province is possible. It will take commitment, resources, and difficult – perhaps even unpopular – political decisions. It needs to start by increasing Employment and Income Assistance rates to a point that people can afford the food that they need. It will require investments in housing, as this is where many people spend much of their wages or social assistance. And it will require the extensive support of organizations across Manitoba who are working on improving the lives of community members, as they work to develop solutions to improve food security at the grassroots.