There’s been a 10 per cent increase in the number of seniors using food banks across the province, and that growth is part of a trend that’s expected to keep increasing in London and throughout Ontario.
“It’s the biggest increase we saw across the province,” said Michael Maidment, the chair of the Ontario Association of Food Banks’ (OAFB) board of directors.
The 2018 Hunger Report, released by the OAFB Monday morning, said their provincewide network of food banks and hunger relief agencies were visited 501,590 times in the past year by children, adults and seniors.
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Seniors are twice as likely to need a food bank regularly compared to other visitors. The report says 25 per cent of seniors go to the food bank 12 times a year or more, compared to 13 per cent who are younger than 65.
“I think it’s based on the rising cost of living. There’s lots of data out there that shows many Canadians, 1 in 3 Canadians, are not financially prepared for retirement,” said Maidment.
The number of seniors in London is also growing, but not at the same pace, according to London Food Bank co-director Jane Roy.
“Last year, the increase was eight per cent… this year, it’s not quite as high. I think we’re about five or six per cent,” she said.
“Seniors are on fixed incomes, a lot of them don’t have the pension they used to have, or they don’t have the savings they used to have. The fact that they’re struggling is, of course, a concern.”
With more and more baby boomers nearing or entering retirement, and with an increasing senior poverty rate, the OAFB expects the number of elderly people who visit the food bank to keep growing.
The report cites the declining number of pensions, the decreasing value of those pensions, fewer government benefits for seniors, and the increasing cost of living, as reasons why more seniors are falling into poverty.
But it also offers solutions to the benefit of the more than half-a-million children, adults and seniors who used a food bank in Ontario last year.
The OAFB is calling for the reinstatement of the Basic Income Pilot Project that was abruptly terminated in July 2018. It also says investments in affordable housing and improving supports for seniors will help to address the larger issue of poverty in Ontario.
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The OAFB is a provincewide network of 130 food banks and more than 1,100 affiliate hunger-relief agencies. It distributes more than five million pounds of fresh and non-perishable food including one million litres of fresh milk and over two million servings of protein.
In the past year, it says Ontario’s food banks provided support to 227,321 households, who all described themselves as experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity, while 33 per cent of the individual visitors were children.