Why do we need food banks in rich Canada?

The front page of this year’s Hunger Count says what many Canadians are thinking "Why do we need food banks in a country as rich as Canada"?

The sad truth is that the number of people using a food bank today is still 25 per cent higher than it was before the economic downturn.

Six years later, too many people still live at or below the poverty line and need help each and every month to find enough food to eat.

Children make up over one-third of food bank users – a number that is greatly unchanged from previous years. We are not ending child poverty, we are sustaining it.

A truly shocking number is that the number of people using food banks each month has not dropped below 700,000 for 15 years.

For rural food banks, some perplexing statistics emerge. In British Columbia, nearly half of all people assisted by food banks live alone. And the number above age 65 is over six per cent.

That means more seniors are finding it hard to afford or access healthy food. This is very concerning as our population ages, particularly here in the Cowichan Valley.

It is one of the reasons I support increasing the Canada Pension Plan, so we know that as people retire, they will have enough money for a modest standard of living. Without that, a person’s health can suffer.

What can we do? Hunger Count 2014 has five recommendations, a mix of federal and provincial responsibilities: 1. Invest in affordable housing at the federal level.

2. Address the extremely high levels of food insecurity in Canada’s north.

3. Replace the stigmatizing and ineffective social assistance bureaucracy at the provincial level with a basic income administered through the tax system.

4. Provide more effective support to low-income families with children by replacing the current alphabet soup of federal child benefits (CCTB, UCCB, etc.) with a strengthened Child Well-Being Benefit.

5. Help Canadians with low levels of literacy to upgrade their skills for the jobs of today.

I would add that here in the Cowichan Valley protecting traditional sources of local food – including salmon runs on the Cowichan River, is another goal that can help prevent hunger.

As your member of parliament I have spoken on the need to maintain current support for affordable housing and to support purpose-built rental housing with the tax system. If people can pay more affordable rates for housing, it provides more dollars for food.

If you think there are other solutions to food insecurity, I would like to hear them at jean@jeancrowder.ca Jean Crowder is the member of parliament for Nanaimo-Cowichan. She can be reached at 250-746-4896.