Food bank numbers ‘grossly underestimate the severity of the problem’ in Metro Vancouver

The rising cost of gas, groceries, and housing is a struggle for more and more families in Metro Vancouver, with many being forced to make difficult financial choices.

As demand has risen at local food banks, one expert says that is just a small part of the story when it comes to the challenge of putting enough food on the table.

“Historically, food banks have been the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for food insecurity,” says Valerie Tarasuk, lead investigator for PROOF, a food insecurity policy research group.

“But what might surprise you is that when we look at the statistics, only about one-in-five of the households that are food insecure in Canada will ever show up in a food charity system. So they grossly underestimate the volume of the problem, and the severity of it.”

Tarasuk tells CityNews that, in some cases, families are being forced to make the choice between putting food on the table and paying for other basic necessities.

“For people who are housed, the single biggest expenditure for them will be the rent, and they can’t afford to compromise that. As prices of basic commodities rise, we can expect people to be shrinking and shrinking their food budget as they try very hard to make ends meet.”

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The latest figures from Statistics Canada show food inflation rose to 9.7 percent in April, with food prices rising faster in this country than they have since 1981.

“With outlets like yours asking questions about food insecurity in Canada, I hope what it does is shine a light on basic income supports,” she says. “People are food insecure in this country because they don’t have enough money to buy the food they need. As food prices rise, I’m saying food insecurity will worsen — so what’s the solution? We have to take a good hard look at the adequacy of incomes for people at the bottom end of the spectrum.”

That includes, Tarasuk argues, ensuring supports are tied to increases in food prices and other costs of living.

“In British Columbia, for example, social assistance is not indexed to inflation, so those people’s incomes are effectively being reduced right now because they are not keeping pace with inflation.”

She suggests it is easy to see that rising costs are particularly hard for people who have restricted incomes, but we shouldn’t stop there.

“The next step has to be asking what we are doing about it. We know we have a whole group of people who were struggling before food prices started to hit the roof,” Tarasuk says.

“What’s happening now can only have made things worse. Charity is not fixing the problem so we have to look at the income support policies in place and whether they are indexed to inflation and meet basic needs. In a province like British Columbia, I think the answer is no.”

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