In a culture literally surrounded by food, it doesn’t seem possible that there would be so many people experiencing daily hunger pangs due to lack of access to food. In our town of Port Alberni, 18.5 per cent of families live in poverty.
An individual receiving an average welfare cheque of $610 has $21 per week, or $3 a day for food. Hence, there are far too many children who have drastically altered future opportunities, health outcomes, hopes and dreams.
Approximately 30 per cent of food bank users are children. Many kids are living with parents who are the working poor, and these children will grow up with increased risks of depression, diabetes, asthma and impaired immune function due to household food insecurity.
“Raise the rates” is a campaign across B.C. to help demonstrate the cycle of poverty and inequalities of the socio-economic gap that is widening. People of all backgrounds and income, including high profile personalities take the week-long “Welfare Food Challenge” to spotlight the government’s negligence in providing members of society this basic human right. Adequate and reasonable food should not be a gift from charities, as it is a human right set out in the United Nations Declaration (Article 25).
It’s been over eight years since the welfare rate in BC has been increased. British Columbia is the only province in Canada without a Poverty Reduction Plan. Poverty is a result of political decisions about priorities.
As a growing number of public school PAC (Parent Advisory Council) groups use bigger proportions of their bake sale proceeds and fundraising dollars to ensure their school kids have enough food (to not be hungry), instead of funding field trips, music and activity programs, it demonstrates how much the system is broken.
Food banks were originally created as temporary emergency measures in response to a food access crisis decades ago, and now headlines such as, “Temporary food bank hits 30 years of service” force society to consider this issue. Keeping the issue in the public’s eye helps to pressure leaders of the day and government to step up to end the need for food banks and charities and to provide this basic human right.
If the government increased welfare rates, this would reduce the need for society’s reliance on food banks to feed the impoverished.
The Cost of Eating Report, which is published annually by Dietitians of Canada indicates that welfare rates fall short by over half the amount of money needed for purchase of healthy, nutritious food for a basic diet.
The Welfare Food Challenge demonstrates the fact that this limited diet lacks essential nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, vitamin D, iron and vitamin E. These deficiencies will lead to anemia, osteoporosis, impaired immune system with an increased risk of developing asthma, depression, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
The lack of variety, flavour and blandness sets the vulnerable individual up for a pre-occupation with thoughts of food, trouble sleeping with hunger pangs, anxiety with worry about their next meal, plus lack of social interaction due to reduced ability to engage in daily activities with others.
There is no room in the welfare budget for clothing, haircuts, coffee, meals in restaurants or treats.
In society, there are a lot of myths surrounding poverty, but when 40.8 per cent of working individuals are earning less than $20,000/year, this is a real problem that all levels of government needs to examine and address.
“Raise the Rates” Welfare food challenge runs from Nov. 3–9 this year and for the fourth year in a row, it will help to spotlight this hunger issue.
We need to hear the dialogue and the political leaders’ plan of action to address this in a long-term systemic way.
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Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.