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Last Thursday, members of Voices for Change Halton held an information picket in front of No Frills in beautiful downtown Burlington, Ontario. Passersby were given material from the Put Food in the Budget Campaign. This led to some wonderful discussions around the need to raise social assistance rates, increase minimum wage, create more affordable housing, and increase corporate taxes. These are the basic ingredients needed to help end hunger and poverty.
Loblaw was chosen because 80 per cent of Canadians shop at their grocery stores. Despite being very profitable, these stores are well known for paying employees low wages. Loblaw cashiers are paid as little as $11 an hour. This means that even if they manage to work 35 hours per week for a full year their annual income would be $20,020 before taxes. The poverty line in Ontario is $19,930 for a single adult and $28,185 for a lone parent with a child under six years of age. Most employees are part-time.
Each month 400,000 people access food banks in Ontario. Of these, 48,000 are working at low wage jobs. That means, 12 per cent of the people using food banks in Ontario are working.
Federally, the poverty line ranges from $16,038 to $23,298 for a single person before taxes. The lower range is for rural communities while the higher range reflects communities with 500,000 inhabitants or more.
According to HungerCount2014, four million Canadians live in a state of food insecurity. This means that they are living without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. That's 10 per cent of Canada's population.
Food bank use across the country has increased 25 per cent since 2008. Each month 841,191 Canadians use a food bank -- 33 per cent are children and youth. Each person, or family, can access a particular food bank once a month. On average, they'll receive enough food to provide nine percent of their monthly food needs. Most is canned and prepackaged with questionable nutritional value.
Loblaw, along with other large corporations like Walmart, Campbell's, McCain's, Arby's, and Hershey Canada, promote a charitable model encouraging consumers to buy more of their products to donate to food banks. At the checkout, Loblaw customers are asked to donate $2 to Galen Weston Jr.'s charity for children. Many of these children live in poverty because their parents earn minimum wage.
What is equally disturbing is a sign attached to debit machines effectively stating that if the cashier doesn’t ask customers for a $2 donation to the PC Children's Charity then the customer can report the cashier at Customer Service where they'll receive a free bag of PC Decadent chocolate chip cookies.
As precarious part-time and contract positions become a way of life for Canadians more of us will experience food insecurity. This federal election is the perfect time to ask candidates their stance on food security as a human right; a living wage; guaranteed basic income; a national housing policy; universal child care policy; and raising corporate taxes to maintain and expand the social safety nets that all Canadians deserve.
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