Food inflation hurting local families

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One in five Chatham-Kent families are in a state of food insecurity.

This from CK Public Health officials, based on data that is already nine months old.

Sharmini Balakrishnan, public health nutritionist, said food insecurity occurs when people don’t have enough money to eat nutritional meals on a regular basis.

The provincial average is one in six families, but Balakrishnan said the issue is more acute locally.

“The cause is poverty,” Balakrishnan said. “It’s a lack of having all basic needs.”

Low-income groups – including people earning minimum wage and those on social assistance – are at risk. Female-led one-parent households and racialized groups are at greater risk, Balakrishnan said.

She said CK Public Health monitors food affordability through the Nutritious Food Basket – which is a list of 61 items based on the 2019 Canada Food Guide in local grocery stores.

“It assumes people have the time, ability, food skills and equipment to prepare their meals and shop for the lowest priced items,” she said.

Statistics from the middle of 2022 indicate a family of four spends more than $1,000 a month on food. Combine that with rent, and a family on Ontario Works has under $470 per month to spend on other needs. 

The cushion gets smaller for a single-parent family with two kids, and evaporates all together with a single person on social assistance, Balakrishnan said.

The one-parent family has about $380 left over after food and rent, while the single person is short by about $130 a month to have a place to stay and nutritious meals.

Failing to have access to nutritious food can lead to depression and other health risks, Balakrishnan said. 

Increases to social assistance and to the minimum wage would help alleviate food insecurity. To this effect, the board of health opted to send a letter to the province to lobby for change.

Multiple members of the board expressed concern nothing is changing, at least nothing for the better.

“I found it deeply concerning to read that,” board member and Chatham Coun. Alysson Storey said of the report. “I have not seen any improvement. It’s always gotten worse.”

Board chair Brock McGregor agreed.

“We know these numbers are going to get a lot worse. We haven’t seen the income supports to give the people the help they need,” the Chatham councillor said.

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