Making ends meet can be difficult
Food security for low-income families in the local area has improved over the past year thanks to increases to the federal child benefit.
However, hunger remains an ever-present threat in Haldimand and Norfolk for low-income households that do not have children in their care.
These are two key findings in the latest report on food insecurity from the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
“Ongoing advocacy is still needed to ensure all households have sufficient income for both housing and food,” Laura Goyette, a dietician with the health unit, told Haldimand and Norfolk’s Board of Health this week.
“We are all hopeful we will continue seeing a decline in food insecurity in our region.”
The health unit is concerned about food security because health problems arise in households where access to nutritious food is precarious. The major contributing factor to food insecurity, Goyette says, is poverty.
Goyette says a typical family of four in Ontario has a monthly income of about $7,900. Families like this have little trouble paying for housing and nutritious food.
The same four-member family on welfare has a monthly income of about $2,500. Goyette’s report says families in this category will spend about two-thirds of their income on food and housing.
The most precarious position when it comes to food insecurity involves single males on welfare.
Single males in this category receive $794 a month. Accounting for rent and the cost of a nutritious diet, the health unit says a man in this situation is likely to run a monthly deficit of nearly $70.
The health unit is involved in a number of stop-gap programs in Haldimand and Norfolk related to food insecurity.
The health unit – in collaboration with the Simcoe-based group Church Out Serving – distributes “Food in Norfolk” and “Food in Haldimand” brochures. These direct individuals to emergency and low-cost food support programs.
Many assume that households coping with food insecurity rely on food banks. The health unit says this is not the case. The health unit estimates that only 25 per cent of “food insecure” households in the local area patronize food banks.
As for a long-term solution, the health unit says a number of public policy objectives need to come together to root out food insecurity.
Goyette says these include an increase in social assistance rates, a universal portable housing benefit, and the extension of health-care benefits to low-income households and individuals.
“Food insecurity is a significant public health concern,” Goyette says in her report.
“While an increase in income was observed for individuals and families with children, ongoing advocacy is needed to ensure no one in our counties ever needs to make the choice between food and rent. Income solutions are an effective way to reduce rates of food insecurity.”
The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit serves Haldimand County and Norfolk County.
Because Norfolk County has the larger population, Norfolk council serves as the Board of Health for both municipalities. The Board of Health received Goyette’s report as information on Tuesday.