KFL&A Public Health’s ‘Cost of Eating Healthy’ report highlights income inadequacy

A chart from the Cost of Eating Healthy report examining costs in relation to Ontario income support payments. Graphic via KFL&A Public Health Cost of Eating Healthy report, 2023.

Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health has released a report entitled ‘2023 Cost of Eating Healthy, which illustrates just how difficult it is for people with low income to meet their needs in the region.

The results are based on a survey conducted in May 2023 of seven grocery stores, with the lowest price recorded for each food item — a selection that is not necessarily available to all consumers. The report states that 16 per cent of households in the KFL&A region live with food insecurity, meaning that one in six households in the area do not know if there will be enough food next week or next month.

The cost to buy healthy food for a family of four in Kingston for a month is $1,207, meaning if that family is supported by Ontario Works (OW), they’re spending almost half their monthly income on food. With rents steadily increasing, most families who are on fixed income supports like OW and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) generally don’t have enough to cover even their baseline expenses.

Dan Irwin, Executive Director of the Kingston Partners in Mission Food Bank, said nearly 40 per cent of the food bank’s clients are on ODSP or OW supports. He says the payments leave people just barely getting by.

“Obviously those [ODSP and OW support payments] are just not high enough to actually make it,” Irwin said.

“There is no budgeting of that. You just can’t survive and have any sort of normal sense of living. Ontario disability work support payments have increased, but they’ve not really kept up with inflation.”

But food insecurity is a problem for many who do not receive income support. Irwin said the Partners in Mission Food Bank has also seen a significant increase in working clients, clearly exhibiting pay cheques are not going as far.

“Up until 2023… between four to seven per cent were working part-time or full-time who were utilizing our services at some point during the year,” he said, noting that, in 2023, that number rose to 11.2 per cent of the food bank’s clients.

“So, you know, we are seeing more who are working who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Seeing Public Health’s declaration that one in six households face food insecurity is surprising to Irwin, who said that number is higher than he expected. Irwin said he’s been stunned by the number of people already assisted by Partners in Mission, and worried for the potential increase in demand that food banks may be unable to keep up with.

That makes the need for donations all the more pressing, but given that inflation and dwindling affordability are impacting a variety of income levels, it’s become difficult for many people to make those contributions.

Irwin said, thankfully, Kingston as a community has, in large part, continued to step up.

“We are definitely seeing those who’ve donated in the past are not able to do that… those smaller donations aren’t coming in like they used to, and now we’re relying on those who have more to donate,” Irwin said.

“Fortunately the Kingston and Loyalist community has been very generous to us… There’s no government funding. This is our community helping our community.”

Food banks like Partners in Mission have made a concerted effort in recent years to offer healthy options and fresh goods to their clients, but they can only fill so many gaps for those in need.

KFL&A Public Health urges further action to help address this growing problem, like a letter writing campaign to MPs asking for stronger action on food insecurity.

More information on KFL&A Public Health’s 2023 Cost of Eating Healthy report, as well as how to read the full report, can be found on the KFL&A Public Health website.

Owen Fullerton is a Kingston-based reporter with the Local Journalism Initiative (LJI). The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

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