Reports find assistance doesn’t cover real foods
Mary Beth Hartill
November 15, 2012
ALMAGUIN – Two recent reports indicate that people on social assistance are not getting enough.
“The rates aren’t sufficient in today’s Ontario to obtain safe clean housing and put nutritious food on the table, and those yourself, those basic needs,” said Frances Lankin, co-author of Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario.
In the report, that Lankin and co-commissioner Munir A. Sheikh, they were asked to put together a recommendation around a methodology for setting rates for social assistance.
She says right now the rates are arbitrary and there is no examination between the relationship of what the rate is and what it can purchase or how it relates to paid work.
“We spent a long time looking at these issues,” she said. “We’re in complete agreement that if you look at the lowest rate paid in Ontario Works, which is $599 a month, that is completely inadequate to meet the needs.”
She says there needs to be a benchmark that examines, on a regional basis because costs vary, what the costs are for things such as housing, nutritious food, clothing, basic transportation and communications.
The finding ties into a recent report by the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit, which released the results of their Nutritious Food Basket survey of the average weekly cost of healthy eating for individuals and households.
The health unit survey examined the lowest prices of 67 foods at 12 grocery stores in their geographic purview and found that in 2012, the cost for a family of four was about $188 per week, $815 per month.
“People usually choose to pay fixed expenses, such as utilities and rent first, before buying food,” states the health unit release. “Food often becomes a ‘discretionary’ expense and any leftover money will go towards purchasing food. This often results in poor quality foods that are low in nutrients.”
According to the health unit release, the price of healthy eating went up 5.6 per cent in the North Bay Parry Sound from 2011 to 2012. However, it states that the cost of food is not the only issue. The main problem for many people on social assistance and earning minimum wage is that there simply is not enough money left to buy healthy foods after paying for basic expenses, such as rent and utilities.
Nearly 70 per cent of Ontario households using food banks are on social assistance or Ontario Disability Program (ODSP) benefits. Food bank operators try very hard to address food security, but food banks are difficult to sustain because food selection depends on donations and drives.
Lankin says work needs to be done regionally that will establish a benchmark on adequacy of the Ontario Works rate and what it can provide but they also have to look at what people can earn if they enter the workforce to ensure that the program is responsive.
“In that if people leave and they go to work, they are better off when they go to work,” she said. “Work should pay and that’s a challenge in our economy.”
She says minimum wage does not reflect what it costs to live, referring to it as a political football.
“It’s not tied in any way to economic performance or wage income distribution,” she said.
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