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AFB 2024: Food security

Alternative Federal Budget: what the federal government could achieve on food security

August 24, 2023

12-minute read

Introduction

As of 2021, approximately one in five people in Canada were living in a household experiencing food insecurity.1 This means 6.9 million people worrying about running out of food, having a limited food selection, compromising in quality or quantity of food consumed, and/or reducing their food intake or disrupting their eating patterns—all because of a lack of money for food.2

This number doesn’t include people living on reserves or in institutions, or in households in extremely remote areas with very low population density—all populations known to be disproportionately impacted by poverty. We also know this number is rising.3 This harrowing amount of deprivation of something that is a basic need is totally unacceptable in a country as rich as ours. We must do better.

In Canada, food insecurity is an issue of income inadequacy.4 At least 52 per cent of all households living with food insecurity in Canada receive employment or self-employment income as their main source of income.5 Workers are struggling to meet their basic needs because they have inadequate income due to a precarious labour market that pays lower wages, offers fewer protections and benefits, and has unpredictable work hours and wages. Additionally, three in five households that receive social assistance as their main source of income live with food insecurity6 because of the grossly inadequate social assistance rates found in all the provinces and territories. Food insecurity is also an issue of equity in Canada because it disproportionately impacts Indigenous and racialized people, recent immigrants, and people with disabilities.

The presence of food insecurity also indicates a vast array of additional deprivations experienced by many people living on low incomes in Canada. Every day, people experiencing food insecurity are also forced to make other difficult choices between spending on housing, clothing, medications, and transportation.7 Food insecurity results in poorer health and higher annual household and public health care costs due to recurring chronic physical and mental health issues, higher need for constant or long-term care, higher hospitalization rates, and premature deaths.8,9,10,11

In 1976, Canada ratified the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, committing to ensure that all its people enjoy the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate food. This year’s AFB will take radical and ambitious steps to fulfill these rights by addressing the root causes of food insecurity in Canada.

Overview

Canada has consistently monitored household food insecurity for two decades now, though gaps persist in available data. In 2019, the federal government adopted the Food Policy for Canada, committing to improving food-related health outcomes, particularly among people living with food insecurity.12 The policy envisions that “all people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food.”13 The time is overdue to turn evidence and policy commitments into results.

Research shows that food insecurity in Canada can be significantly reduced through robust policies targeting low-income individuals and families. The Canada Child Benefit reduced food insecurity rates among very low-income families with children by 25 per cent from 2015 to 2018.14 The Guaranteed Income Supplement reduced food insecurity rates among seniors by 35 per cent from 2007 to 2013.15

Indigenous Peoples experience disproportionately higher rates of food insecurity in Canada. First Nations people who live on reserves are more than twice as likely to live in a household experiencing food insecurity.16 One in three Indigenous Peoples living away from home, including in urban settings, lives in a household experiencing food insecurity, compared to one in six non-Indigenous people.17 Nearly half of all people in Nunavut, one in four in the Northwest Territories, and one in seven in the Yukon, live in food-insecure households.18,19

Food insecurity among Indigenous communities in northern Canada, in the territories, and on Indigenous reserves is deeply rooted in colonialism, anti-Indigenous racism, systemic discrimination, and intergenerational trauma.20,21 Canada entered into, but has not honoured, nation-to-nation agreements with Indigenous Peoples, with shared responsibilities to care for the lands, waters, and air based on Indigenous knowledge systems.22,23 A number of things compromise traditional food systems and separate Indigenous Peoples from ecosystems that are central to their spiritual and cultural relationships and practices: mining; agriculture; industrial, housing, road, and hydro developments; forestry; and land appropriations.24,25 Addressing food insecurity requires addressing these root causes, in large part by honouring and supporting Indigenous food sovereignty.26,27

Black people are three times more likely to live with food insecurity than white people in Canada.28 Food insecurity among Black communities is deeply rooted in anti-Black racism, systemic discrimination, and lasting impacts of enslavement.29 Black people experience higher rates of racial discrimination in the education and labour sectors, two key spaces for building financial stability.30 Black seniors are twice as likely as white seniors to be food insecure and often have fewer private retirement plans.31,32

Food insecurity among Black people is also tightly linked to other key social determinants of health, like housing; Black people are more likely to rent their homes and face increased financial precarity. These factors compromise their capacity to afford nourishing, culturally appropriate food.33,34

As of 2021, one in four (or 1.8 million) children under age 18 lived in a household experiencing food insecurity. Two-thirds of these children lived in households experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity. Like most food programs, school food programs cannot address the root causes and serious health outcomes of household food insecurity in Canada. They must not be seen as a replacement for the structural interventions needed to address food insecurity among children and their families, such as income support programs like the Canada Child Benefit. However, school food programs can enhance the health and well-being of children—including children living in households experiencing poverty and food insecurity.

Actions

The AFB will reduce overall food insecurity by 50 per cent and reduce severe food insecurity by 33 per cent by 2026. This will entail passing a food insecurity reduction bill by Fall 2024, with ambitious targets to reduce overall food insecurity by 50 per cent and reduce severe food insecurity by 33 per cent by 2026, relative to 2021 levels. This means that by 2026, Canada will have 3.5 million fewer persons living in households experiencing food insecurity and 493,000 fewer persons living in households experiencing severe food insecurity.

Effective food insecurity reductions in Canada must be equitable. So, in addition to the national level, the targets mentioned above will apply to all socio-demographic groups disproportionately impacted by food insecurity. This includes Indigenous, Black, racialized, disabled, and 2SLGBTQ+ people; female-led one parent families; and working-age single adults.35,36,37 The Canadian Income Survey, Canada’s main source of food insecurity data, will collect data that allows for disaggregation by equity related socio-demographic variables to facilitate tracking of progress among equity-deserving groups, including those mentioned above.

The AFB will address the root causes of household food insecurity in Canada by creating and reinforcing four pillars of income support. The AFB will introduce the new Canada Child Benefit “end poverty supplement” to further reduce food insecurity among families with children who live in particularly deep poverty. The AFB will commit funding for the Canada Disability Benefit and to create the Canada Livable Income to provide income support to people with disabilities and low-income working-age people (those aged 18 to 64), respectively. Both benefits will be modelled on the Guaranteed Income Supplement and indexed to inflation to ensure they provide adequate payments. Canada Disability Benefit and Canada Livable Income payments will be calibrated to better target individuals and families living with severe food insecurity (for more details, see the Income and Poverty chapter).

The AFB will address the root causes of Indigenous food insecurity by supporting Indigenous food sovereignty. In 2021, Canada ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, pledging to respect, protect, and fulfill Indigenous Peoples’ right to self determination, which includes Indigenous food sovereignty. Accordingly, the AFB will create an Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program, with an initial commitment of $200 million over two years. This will go towards supporting co-creation of more specific Indigenous Food Sovereignty Frameworks, with self-selecting groups of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.

The frameworks will propose land reform and redistribution parameters using as baselines the original agreements between Indigenous groups and the Crown upon Canada’s colonization of Indigenous Peoples. The frameworks will also specify which designated Crown lands can be allocated for exclusive hunting, fishing, and gathering reserves for Indigenous communities in Canada.

Many Indigenous communities are already working to address food insecurity, including the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s Inuit Nunangat Food Security Strategy.38 Such initiatives will be further enhanced through the Indigenous Food Sovereignty Program.

The AFB will provide an additional $100 million over five years to support the adaptation and integration of Indigenous knowledge systems into existing federal laws relating to food and land systems. This will include consultations with Indigenous Peoples from coast to coast to coast.

Because food insecurity is a key social determinant of health among Indigenous Peoples, the AFB will commit a $100-million additional top-up over three years to the Local Food Infrastructure Fund. Twenty per cent of this funding will go towards strengthening Indigenous food systems to help address Indigenous food, dietary, nutrition, and health needs. Canada will continue to promote Indigenous-led reconciliation, healing, and trust, rebuilding with Indigenous Peoples. It will continue to promote integration of Indigenous knowledge systems and worldviews around conservation, protection, and management of the lands, waters, and air.

The AFB will commit $500 million over five years to enhance Nutrition North Canada’s ongoing work and new responsibilities around promoting Indigenous food sovereignty in Canada. This funding will support additional human, technical, material, and financial resources that Nutrition North Canada requires to fulfil its mandate. To enhance Indigenous food systems and food sovereignty, 40 per cent of this funding will go towards supporting Indigenous initiatives or programs around hunting, fishing, gathering, and harvesting.

The AFB will address the root causes of food insecurity in Black communities through Black-led food insecurity interventions. The AFB will provide $50 million over two years to co-develop a Black-led National Action Plan to Address Food Insecurity in Black Communities.

The plan will include coordinated strategies on how to reach the food security targets mentioned earlier in this chapter, based on current Black-led food security interventions. Black-led and Black-serving organizations and communities are already doing great work in promoting Black food sovereignty and culturally appropriate food security initiatives. Harnessing the diverse strengths of these initiatives in a coordinated and well-funded national action plan will significantly reduce food insecurity among Black communities in Canada.

The AFB will commit $50 million over five years to undertake Black led research around Black food security issues and interventions in Canada. Although Black-led and Black-serving community food security organizations in Canada are largely initiated, funded, and managed by Black communities themselves, little is known about their characteristics and impacts. Harnessing knowledge of these efforts can inform learning and scaling to better address Black food insecurity in Canada.

The AFB will commit $50 million over two years to the Supporting Black Canadian Communities Initiative to empower Black-led and Black serving community organizations working to address anti-Black racism and enhance Black inclusion.

The AFB will also create and fund a food insecurity add-on to the initiative, allocating $50 million over two years to it. The initiative will support Black-led and Black-serving community food security organizations to strengthen Black food systems and address food insecurity in Black communities.

Organizations that benefit from the initiative will document how their program models can be scaled and sustained as part of the National Action Plan to Address Food Insecurity in Black Communities mentioned above. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and the Minister of Employment and Social Development Canada will explore opportunities to empower Black led and Black-serving community organizations that would not benefit from the initiative.

The AFB will support children’s health and well-being by creating Canada’s first National School Nutritious Meal Program. In late 2022, the federal government conducted public consultations around building a national school food policy.39

The AFB will build on this process and provide $1 billion over five years to establish and roll out a universal, cost-shared National School Nutritious Meal Program, which will be a key element of the evolving Food Policy for Canada. The meal program will complement the existing network of diverse school food programs by contributing to provincial, territorial, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit partners to fund school food programs across Canada.

Additionally, the federal government will immediately commence discussions with Indigenous leaders to negotiate agreements for the creation and/or enhancement of permanent independent distinctions based First Nation, Métis, and Inuit school meal programs. Finally, the federal government will work with relevant government departments and stakeholders to develop a dedicated school food infrastructure fund to enhance food production and preparation equipment and facilities to serve healthy food in adequate volumes.

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