So far this year we have served over 18,000 meals to our community. To put it in perspective, by this time last year we had served less than 9,000 meals. Double the meals means double the food cost and double the labour. This trend isn't isolated to Iqaluit — food access services around the country are reporting substantial increases in demand. So what is causing this increase?
The end of pandemic-related income supports
We initially noticed the increase back in October 2021, which happened to be when pandemic-related income relief programs like the Canada Recovery Benefit came to an end. This was no coincidence; soon after we were running out of meals halfway through lunch distribution, so we increased production by another 100 meals. But not long after we were running out of food again — this time 15 minutes into the distribution. Since CRB ended the demand for our daily meal has risen by 45% and it's not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Inflation has climbed to rates not seen for decades. For those already struggling to make ends meet, this makes things even more difficult as inflation is expected to continue to rise in the months ahead. As we see the demand on food access programs increase in tandem with inflation, it's clear to us that food insecurity isn't a food problem — it's an income problem. To effectively address this problem, politicians must make policy decisions to raise incomes.
These income-based interventions are just some of the ways our governments can act now to protect the most vulnerable in our communities from rising food insecurity:
Index social supports to inflation
In most provinces and territories in Canada, many social supports are not indexed to inflation. That includes Nunavut where income assistance, senior benefits, child benefits, and the territory's minimum wage are not indexed (and Nunavut already has one of the lowest income assistance rates in the country). Low-income households will feel the impacts of inflation most acutely, so adequate social protections that at a minimum keep up with inflation must be a priority.
Increase the minimum wage to a living wage
Studies show that a one-dollar increase in minimum wage decreases the risk of someone experiencing food insecurity by about 1%. The Government of Nunavut is legally required to review the minimum wage amount every year but hasn't met this obligation since 2019. Under the current $16/hr minimum wage, a full-time worker in the territory could earn up to $33,280 in gross annual income. Considering that Nunavut's cost of living is 2 to 3 times the national average, we know that this number just doesn't cut it, even in the absence of an officially designated poverty line for the territory.
Modernize Employment Insurance (EI)
Introduced in the 1940s, EI is meant to automatically stabilize the economy and support purchasing power for those who become unemployed in economic downturns. After program "reforms" (read: cuts) in the 1990s, access to the program became more restrictive and complicated. It should be noted that these restrictions resulted in systemic exclusions, particularly for women, migrant workers, and people who are self-employed. The coverage was also reduced to 55% of a person's insured earnings — one of the lowest rates in the OECD. The Government of Canada is currently conducting a two-year review of EI and must make changes to offer better protection, increased coverage, and reduced restrictions in order to get Canada's economy and workers ready to withstand a potential recession.
Contact your local MP and your MPP or MLA to find out how they are planning to implement policy changes that will protect low-income households from rising inflation and a potential recession. If their plan doesn't include indexing social supports, raising the minimum wage, or reforming EI, ask for their commitment to implement these income-based interventions to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
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