There appears to be a disconnect between the NDP government’s stated goal of reducing poverty, our most recent economic indicators and the fact that more Manitobans are having to use the services of food banks.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported yesterday, in advance of the release of the HungerCount 2012 report by Food Banks Canada, food bank use in Manitoba has grown faster than in any other province in the country over the last year.
The annual report on food bank use says that nationally, food bank use grew 2.4 per cent between 2011 and 2012 and 30.6 per cent since the recession hit in 2008.
“We were hopeful that we’d start to see things level off, but that’s not the case,” said Katharine Schmidt, Food Banks Canada’s executive director.
But in Manitoba, the situation was even more dire, with 63,482 people having accessed the services of a food bank in March, 2012, up 14.2 per cent since March 2011. The number of users is up 56.9 per cent since 2008.
And as the Sun reported yesterday, Samaritan house Ministries executive director Marla Somersall said food bank use has risen by 15 per cent in Brandon.
“The use of Brandon food banks continued to increase over the past year according to local hunger count data, which some organizations attribute largely to the critical shortage of low-income housing in the region,” Somersall said in a statement.
So how do we square this with the fact that, according to the provincial government’s economic update last month, Manitoba had the second best average annual economic growth between 2006 and 2011, at 1.9 per cent and ahead of the national average of 1.2 per cent?
Or the fact that in 2011, the average weekly earnings in Manitoba had gone up by 2.8 per cent, sixth best among the provinces?
Here’s some other economic facts:
• In 2011, consumer bankruptcies were down 24.1 per cent in Manitoba, the largest decline among provinces, and in the first six months of 2012, they were down 20.3 per cent, third best among the provinces.
• Manitoba’s unemployment rate for the first eight months of 2012 was 5.4 per cent, the third lowest among all Canadian provinces, and well below the 7.3 per cent national average.
• In fact, according to Statistics Canada, Manitoba had an unemployment rate of five per cent in September, while B.C.’s was seven per cent, Ontario was at 7.9 per cent, Quebec came in at eight per cent. Newfoundland topped us all the other nine provinces, with an unemployment rate of 12.3 per cent.
• And in the 2012 budget, the province estimated that poverty levels among Manitobans decreased between 2000 and 2009 by more than 6,000 people.
And yet, somehow, food bank use in Manitoba is growing faster than all the other provinces — except Newfoundland.
In the last provincial budget, the NDP government pointed to several long-term strategies that it believed would help reduce poverty and promote social inclusion. They included HomeWorks!, a long-term affordable housing strategy, improvements to housing under Neighbourhoods Alive!, a renewed commitment to child welfare, help for low-income job holders to get higher-paying employment, and augmented parental support programs for new and working parents. And unfortunately there’s good reason for these programs.
The HungerCount report also shows that nearly half the food bank users in Manitoba are children, compared to 38 per cent nationally. About 26 per cent of food bank users in Manitoba live in two-parent families, 22.7 per cent are from single-parent families, and 36 per cent are single people. About three per cent are seniors and four per cent are immigrants. Half receive social assistance.
In rural Manitoba, nearly half of the users of food banks are aboriginal.
We may have among the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but if these numbers are accurate, too many Manitobans are falling into the working poor category, unable to afford housing rents, while trying to put food on the table at the same time.
So much for our improving economic outlook.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 31, 2012