North Perth council hears food insecurity delegation

NORTH PERTH – A joint delegation from United Way Perth-Huron’s Kristin Crane and Huron Perth Public Health registered dietitian Candace Cunningham informed council about local food insecurity at its regular meeting on March 6.

Coun. Lee Anne Andriessen and Mayor Todd Kasenberg disclosed pecuniary interest on the delegation as their involvement with United Way, prior to the delegation and were excused from the chambers for the duration of the meeting. During their presentation to council, Crane and Cunningham presented the key findings from their joint reports. The Social Research and Planning Council implemented a food insecurity survey in November of 2022 in Huron and Perth counties. They received 740 responses and analyzed them to understand food insecurity in the region.

Food insecurity is directly related to income. 33 per cent of respondents are facing moderate to severe food insecurity.

“Unfortunately when a household is facing food insecurity, they are already likely struggling financially to cover other basic living expenses,” explains Crane.

The main household income at 62 percent was full-time employment. 37 per cent of participants said their income doesn’t meet their needs.

“This data demonstrates that wages in our region are not sufficient to meet basic needs. Eighty-one per cent of the most common jobs in Perth and Huron are below $25 an hour,” stated Crane.

“We do know that food insecurity is solved by addressing and increasing incomes to a liveable wage and providing a guaranteed basic income to meet all the basic needs of individuals.”

Their studies found that 88 per cent of people have sacrificed the household food budget to pay for other living expenses, with the most common expense that has forced households to reduce food budgets is living expenses.

The main food that people are unable to afford are meats, fruits and vegetables and diary products, all nutritious foods that make up a balanced diet. Thirty-eight per cent of people said this was true.

Further, adults aren’t the only ones affected.

“We know that there are many, many households in our region with children who are going an entire day without eating,” explained Crane.

In 2021, 14.6 per cent of Huron-Perth residents were food insecure, with Cunningham explaining that this is greater than numbers prior to the pandemic. She then explained that responses in Canada have been focused on food provisions, with the most emphasis on food charities. There is a significant difference between food insecure households and food bank users.

“Food banks are often the last resort for people to obtain food,” Cunningham stated. “Most ask for financial help from family or friends or will skip a (bill) payment before using a food bank.”

In the survey, almost 50 per cent of respondents have never used any community food programs. This includes food banks, food boxes and community meals. Forty-eight per cent of people had been in situations where they had been short on money and have had to sacrifice their food budget. Cunningham then goes on to explain the mental health implications of this inadequate food supply.

“There are many health implications when someone lives in a food insecure household that go far beyond nutrition,” explained Cunningham.

The risk of experiencing poor mental health like an anxiety disorder and depression, increases with the severity of food insecurity. This is true for both adults and youth. Nearly 50 per cent of people who live within food insecure households would skip prescription medications used to manage their health conditions, because they can’t afford them.

Crane and Cunningham then spoke to the report that HPPH produced “The cost of healthy eating.” This looks at the cost of food and food affordability within the region. Next, they broke the data down into income scenarios, such as a family of four on a full-time minimum wage, a single parent with two children on Ontario Works or a single person on ODSP or Ontario Works. The table broke it down into the cost of rent, income, cost of food, and then the total they have left over for other household expenses.

Cunningham then talked about the lack of availability of bachelor apartments. “They are nearly impossible to find in Huron and Perth counties.”

Crane went on to explain the 2022 Huron-Perth living wage breakdown. This is calculated on an annual basis by the Social Research and Planning Council of United Way. For Huron-Perth, the living wage is $20.70.

“We know that people who are paid adequately have improved nutrition and better health, and they no longer have the stress of having to choose between paying the rent or covering bills or buying groceries,” stated Cunningham.

Then they brought forth their recommendations to council on how it can get involved. This included using the municipality’s voice in politics within Canada to aid in advocating for adequate income for all Canadians.

“On behalf of council, we thank you for your delegation and we look forward to working with you in the near future,” explained Deputy Mayor Doug Kellum.

Melissa Dunphy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner