BC Ferries employees working at Swartz Bay donated about 1,400 pounds of food to the Saanich Peninsula Lions Food Bank following suspension of food services in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of BC Ferries).

COVID-19 threatens food security of low-income Canadians

Stats Can finds many Canadians do not have financial resources to sustain ‘well-being’

New data from Statistics Canada compiled in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the food security issues facing millions of Canadians.

The report from Statistics Canada assessing health and social challenges associated with the COVID-19 situation in Canada finds some nine per cent of Canadian households were “food insecure” in 2017-2018. Food security in turn represents a symptom of larger economic insecurities as close to nine per cent of the Canadian population — about 3.2 million — lived below the official poverty line in 2018.

Families are qualified as living in poverty if they do not have enough income to purchase a specific basket of goods and services in its community. This market-based measure is based on the cost of a specific basket representing a modest, basic standard of living that includes the costs of food, clothing, footwear, transportation, shelter and other expenses for a reference family. These costs are compared with the disposable income of families to determine whether or not they fall below the poverty line.

RELATED: Peninsula organizations fund food bank ahead of ‘looming crisis’

For children under 18 years of age, the poverty rate was slightly over eight per cent, meaning that 566,000 children lived below the poverty line in Canada.

The new figures appear against the backdrop of warnings from foodbank operators concerned about declining donations, just as need is predicted to rise.

The report also finds more than one-half of Canadians had enough savings to maintain what the report calls their “well-being” for at least three months, which suggests that a large number of Canadians do not have enough financial resources to withstand a sudden drop in income for an extended period of time. Among Canadian families that reported having debt in 2016, 11 per cent skipped or delayed a non-mortgage payment, such as payments on a credit card, payments for utility services, or car payments in the past year.

This said, it is also important to note Canada’s official poverty rate has been dropping from 12.1 per cent in 2015 to 8.7 per cent in 2018.

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