The struggle to put healthy food on the table is a reality for many people and families in northwestern Ontario. Each year the Northwestern Health Unit (NWHU) surveys grocery stores in our region to determine the cost of healthy food. Year after year this cost continues to rise.
However, the issue runs deeper than just the price of healthy food.
“The real issue is that minimum wage and social assistance rates are not keeping pace with the increasing food costs,” says Julie Slack, Registered Dietitian with the NWHU. “Food is a basic human right. We need minimum wages and social assistance rates to increase to a reasonable, realistic amount so that families will no longer be forced to choose between healthy food on the table or a roof overhead.”
Taking a closer look at the 2016 survey results, the cost of feeding a family of four is $1018.20 per month. This number is up 11.1% from 2010, while, social assistance (Ontario Works) and minimum wage rates have increased only 6.8% and 9.8%, respectively. A family of two adults and two children with income from one full-time minimum wage job would require 63% of their total income to pay for food and rent alone. If this same family was receiving Ontario Works, almost their entire income (83%) would be needed for food and rent alone leaving only 17% or $374 for all other family expenses such as transportation, utilities, clothing, health care, school expenses, telephone and unforeseen emergencies.
It is also important to note that there is a common misconception that employment alone will allow individuals or families to break the cycle of food insecurity. However, this is not the case. Over half (58.3%) of Ontario families struggling to put food on the table are part of the labour force.