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Food banks usage stuck at recessionary levels in 2011: national study

OTTAWA - The number of people using food banks in Canada remains near record highs, two years after the end of the last recession.

The annual study done by Food Banks Canada shows that during one snapshot month in 2011, more than 850,000 people relied on food hand-outs.

That's down a slight two per cent from the record high of 2010, but it's the second-highest on record, and 26 per cent higher than before the recession in 2008.

"The effects of the recession are still being felt across the country," the report states. "As a result, a near record number of people are unable to afford enough food for themselves and their families."

The report provides one of the most up-to-date national indicators of poverty. The latest Statistics Canada data show that the recession halted poverty reduction during the first part of the millennium.

The percentage of people living below the low-income cut-off in 2009 was 9.6 per cent, StatsCan has said.

Who is going hungry? About 2.5 per cent of the population, the Food Banks Canada report says.

The study shows that 38 per cent of food-bank users were under the age of 18. Manitoba had the highest proportion of young people, at 50 per cent.

By household, 40 per cent of the charity-food recipients were single people living alone.

More than half the users were on social assistance, while 18 per cent had earnings from current or recent employment.

More often than not, they were living in rental housing, but only 22 per cent of them were receiving any kind of housing subsidy. About six per cent were homeless.

The food banks' organization says that, generally, the numbers are way too high. Even during the good times, food banks are helping about 700,000 different people every month.

"This is a striking sign that there are serious long-term economic and social problems in Canada for which we simply do not have adequate solutions," the report says.

It wants governments to invest in affordable housing, better income supports and more recognition of non-standard forms of employment that often come with low pay, little security and no benefits.

Improvements to Employment Insurance and some sort of wage insurance would help, the report adds.

But the network says it fears governments are heading in the opposite direction as they try to balance their budgets during a time of low economic growth.

"As governments cut the size of the public workforce, emphasize low taxes, and restrict new spending, social policy — and vulnerable Canadians most affected by it — is at risk of neglect," the report states.

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