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Advocacy & Issues 12/12/2023

At Community Food Centres Canada, we work with over 400 community food organizations towards realizing the right to food. This means advocating for a food-secure country from coast to coast to coast.

Given our mission, we were watching closely when the federal government released its Fall Economic Statement (FES).

In last year’s FES, the government doubled the GST credit for six months. It was a powerful lever to pull because this credit is a tax-free quarterly payment that helps low- and modest-income individuals and families offset the GST they pay. Pulling that lever helped ease inflationary pressures on 11 million people across the country. Would the government announce something similar and show they’re awake to the ongoing food insecurity crisis?

The answer was a firm no. The government declined to act urgently on behalf of struggling Canadians—even though it has the fiscal room to do so. The government had also flagged that this year’s FES would focus on helping Canadians face affordability challenges. But the FES doesn’t even name the issue of rampant food insecurity, let alone provide steps to address it.

So we can sum up our verdict on the FES in one word: disappointing.

Food insecurity is at a historic high

Nearly one in five people experienced food insecurity in 2022. That’s around 6.9 million people who are having problems accessing food—or who are compromising on the quality or quantity of their groceries.

This is the highest recorded rate of food insecurity in Canada. And with ongoing inflation and stagnant incomes, we know that when Statistics Canada announces the 2023 food insecurity rate, the figure will be even higher.

The Fall Economic Statement did include some welcome progress on rolling out universal dental care and making mental health care more affordable. But as we’ll show, the FES’ few positives fall far short of addressing poverty and food insecurity in a substantive way.

Read on to learn where we think the FES missed the mark and what the federal government should do to help everyone put food on the table.

Canada needs to commit to a food insecurity reduction target

The federal government monitors food insecurity as part of its Poverty Reduction Strategy. But it doesn’t have a food insecurity reduction target to measure progress on this critical issue.

Setting a food insecurity reduction target would drive focus, accountability, and action. Community Food Centres Canada and other partners are calling on the federal government to halve food insecurity by the year 2030.

A target can lead to targeted interventions. Having a legislated poverty reduction target has done exactly this in tackling poverty in Canada. Government programs are measured against their ability to reduce poverty. This has led to real impact through accountable, well-funded programs that directly tackle poverty, like the Canada Child Benefit for families with children.

If Canada had a food insecurity target, it would clearly show why this FES isn’t measuring up. It would shine a spotlight on what the FES is missing: more targeted commitments to address food insecurity, such as enhanced and new income support programs.

The Fall Economic Statement offers no direct income supports to address food insecurity

Food insecurity isn’t a food problem—it’s an income problem. And because the FES lacks direct income supports, it doesn’t address the root cause of food insecurity.

In particular, working-age, single adults (aged between 18 and 64) need targeted income support. This group experiences some of Canada’s highest food insecurity rates. One in four working-age, single adults experience food insecurity—and they make up 50% of people living in deep poverty.

Our recommendation? The government should create a Canada Working-Age Supplement.

It can do this by transforming the existing Canada Workers Benefit (CWB) into an income support program for people living in deep poverty, regardless of their employment status. As a start, we recommend making the CWB available to anyone aged between 18 and 64 who is living on a low income, whether they’re working or not. This alone would benefit nearly 1 million more working-age, single adults, most of whom live in deep poverty.

People with disabilities also urgently need income support. Among disabled people aged 16 and over, 50% experience food insecurity. We were hoping for signals that the Canada Disability Benefit would be funded early in 2024. But there was no indication of movement on this critical and life-saving benefit.

We welcome the new Employment Insurance supports for adoptive and surrogate parents and for seasonal workers. But all workers in Canada deserve adequate support when they’re unemployed, and comprehensive EI reform is long overdue.

To make a deeper commitment, the government should:

  • reduce the EI qualifying hours worked from 420 to 300 hours
  • ensure EI access for all workers, including full-time workers, part-time workers, gig workers, and people who are self-employed
  • increase EI benefit rates to 75%, and 85% for low-wage workers.

People need help to afford housing now, not just in the future

Affordable housing and food insecurity are connected. The high cost of housing means that after people pay their housing costs, they have little money left for food.

The FES proposes important measures to create new non-profit housing. But the extra funding proposed for the Affordable Housing Fund is partially funded by reallocating funds from the one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit (CHB). This leaves behind current renters who are living in unaffordable housing. And people on low incomes need immediate income measures to afford housing now.

Instead, we recommend that the federal government:

  • reallocate unused funds for the one-time top-up to the CHB and use them to expand and enhance the existing CHB
  • use alternative sources of revenue to invest in non-profit housing.

What’s next

Heading into Budget 2024, we’ll keep mobilizing with our partners across the country for concrete action on food insecurity and poverty.

During this time of anxiety and economic uncertainty, the few wins in the Fall Economic Statement just aren’t enough to ensure an equitable, dignified, food-secure country.

Want to know more? For further details on the FES, see our FES briefing note. And to stay up to date and get involved, sign up for our newsletter or follow us on social media. 

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