The poor still pay more: Challenges low income families face in consuming a nutritious diet

The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity, in collaboration with Open Policy Ontario’s John Stapleton and research consultant from Toronto Public Health, Brian Cook, releases its report recommending initiatives to help low income families overcome challenges in consuming a nutritious diet.

Toronto – Though much progress has been made with Ontario’s current Poverty Reduction Strategy, more needs to be done. We currently face an underlying challenge – here in Ontario, many people in poverty are facing hunger today. In 2009, over 375,000 Ontarians had to turn to food banks every month (a growth of 19 percent from last year alone), signaling the alarming effects of the recent recession on the diets and health of our most vulnerable residents. Though food banks have become the public face of our collective response to hunger, it is clear that in spite of their best efforts, food banks and community food initiatives are not a solution to hunger or poverty.

Though social assistance has roughly kept pace with inflation since 2004, we are seeing an increasing gap between rising food inflation and social assistance rates, placing greater strain on social assistance recipients and requiring them to allocate a greater portion of their allowance to purchase food. Furthermore, certain food groups, and particularly dairy products have seen a surge in prices, making basic nutrition more expensive for low income families. Specifically, Canada’s milk prices are highest among its international peers as a result of our supply management system, where restrictive quotas have led to artificially inflated prices at the expense of its consumers. There is also a growing concern that basic access to food remains a challenge as “food deserts,” or low income neighbourhoods with limited access to food retailers providing healthy foods and fresh produce, exist in Toronto today.

The report recommends:

  • A new housing benefit geared to income and rental costs to free up constrained finances to purchase food
  • Improved incentives for retailers and community groups to increase accessibility by low income communities to lower priced and healthier food options, particularly in urban “food deserts”
  • The eventual elimination of the price influence of dairy marketing boards

The authors conclude that everyone has the basic right to access healthy and nutritious food, and are concerned that people in Ontario – a region of great economic prosperity and opportunity – are going hungry today. Much needs to be done to ensure that we help reduce the obstacles that impede low income households from accessing their basic right to nutritious food. By supporting our most vulnerable, we can tap into the potential of our labour force, reduce healthcare costs, and help us reach one step closer to our full prosperity potential.

The complete report can be downloaded directly from:

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