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Welfare cuts + recession = increased food insecurity, says study

A new report suggests the number of people relying on food banks nationwide could be set to increase dramatically unless there are significant changes to the current welfare system.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study, entitled Understanding the Link Between Welfare Policy and the Use of Food Banks, focuses on all of Canada but its British Columbian authors draw much of their evidence from their home province.

They criticize both of the province’s biggest parties with statements like “cuts to welfare of the type instituted in BC, both by the NDP in 1996 and after the Liberals came to power in 2001, are associated with substantial increases in food bank use.”

By the authors’ calculations, a 10-per-cent cut in the number of welfare recipients and a similar decrease in rates are likely to lead to four and 14-per-cent increases in food bank use respectively.

“These results suggest that arguments that welfare cuts are a form of “tough love” that ultimately leave potential welfare recipients better off are certainly not universally true,” according to the report.

While noting that the sharpest increases in food bank use occurred under the NDP during the late 1990s and that the 2008 figure was lower than the 2004 peak, the authors suggest Canada’s strong economy partly masked the effects of Liberal welfare policies in this decade. They attribute the higher increase in the 1990s to a stable labour market that allowed the true impact of welfare cuts to be apparent.

And unless current policies change or the economy suddenly turns around, the authors believe the numbers are likely to shoot up.

“First and foremost, the provinces must shift from welfare policies based on distrust of welfare recipients (with provinces essentially setting up rules that punish them), to one that responds to the needs of people,” said the report.

To that end, the authors suggest the following 10 steps to reduce food insecurity in Canada:

Ensure that those in need have access to income assistance.

Establish what people should be able to afford with income assistance.

Increase welfare rates immediately.

Increase rates annually to keep up with the cost of living.

Establish a fairer minimum wage and increase it annually.

Increase the Canada Child Tax Benefit.

Make child care more affordable.

Allow welfare recipients to pursue their education and learn skills.

Improve financial support and access to language training for recent immigrants and refugees.

Make rental housing more affordable.

Rob Annandale reports for The Tyee.

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