Home Blog April 2020 Most Canadians View Hunger as a Serious Issue – Housing is a Key Pressure Point

Most Canadians View Hunger as a Serious Issue – Housing is a Key Pressure Point

Most Canadians View Hunger as a Serious Issue – Housing is a Key Pressure Point
As the economy and livelihoods of millions in our country are temporarily put on hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians recognize the vulnerability of their neighbours and communities in being able to meet their basic needs, and have responded with overwhelming generosity and support. Corporations, individuals, and governments are all stepping up to the plate, working collectively to help address the immediate need through donating food, funds and time to food banks and other food security initiatives popping up across the country.

As important as meeting the immediate need is, Canadians also recognize the driving force of hunger in Canada is a lack of income. In particular, they recognize the cost of housing, more than anything else, as a key pressure point that affects people’s ability to afford food. Given the significance that housing costs have on household budgets, now is the time to implement policy measures not only help reduce the impact that these costs have on people’s ability to afford food, but also help to fill a large gap in our social safety net that will help to reduce the need for food banks in the longer term.

Food Banks Canada commissioned Mainstreet Research, a public opinion polling firm, to survey the Canadian population on their impressions of the seriousness of the issue of hunger, as well as what they felt were the key cost pressures that impacted Canadians ability to afford food. The survey was conducted March 29 and 30, 2020, to a representative sample of 1654 Canadians. Due to the large span of time between the planning and the roll out of the survey, specific reference to COVID-19 was not included in the survey. However, as the timing of the survey took place about two weeks after many social distancing requirements were enacted, the effects of the pandemic may have been top of mind for many the respondents.

Canadians Perception of the Hunger Problem in Canada

Polling and analysis conducted by Mainstreet Research.
  • When asked about how serious of a problem the hunger issue in Canada is, we found that 68.6% of Canadians said the problem was either “very serious” or “somewhat serious,” compared to 31.4% who either said it was “not too serious” or “not serious at all.”
  • Hunger is perceived to be more of a problem among women (77.7%) compared to men (59.4%).
  • We also see a significant increase in perception of hunger as a problem among older respondents. The percentage of those who said it was either “very serious” or “somewhat serious” for each age group is as follows: 18-34 (59.2%), 35-49: (68.4%), 50-64: (72%), 65+ (77.5%).

The Cost Pressure of Hunger is Complicated, But Mostly Due to Housing Cost

  • Canadians thought that the biggest cost pressure that affects their ability to afford food is the housing, followed by “all of the above”. No other option gets more than 10%.
  • This indicates that Canadians view this as a multi-faceted problem not necessarily linked to a single pressure point, but they single out the cost of housing as a particular pressure that can exacerbate the problem.

Filling the Housing Gap -- Provide Emergency Support for Renters

In the 2019 HungerCount report, we found that 70 per cent of food bank clients nationwide lived in market rent housing, and that in all provinces the lowest income group pays well over 50 per cent of their income on rent and utilities*. In the report we also recommended that in addition to other investments in affordable housing, the federal government immediately implement the planned Canada Housing Benefit so that Canadians struggling to afford their rent can access this essential source of rental support†. Ideally, this would be a universal based support, available to all people with low income regardless if their main source of income comes from employment, E.I., or provincial social assistance.

Income security initiatives from the federal and provincial level, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and rent freezes at the provincial level, have been very welcome and have gone a long way toward helping to mitigate some of the demand.  However, many are still falling through the cracks, and food banks across the network are also concerned about what will happen in three or four months’ time, when some of these temporary supports come to an end, and people will still have rent to pay, and food to put on the table.

The current Canada Housing Benefit was set to have been rolled out to all provinces this spring, and is designed to directly support low income Canadians who are paying a high percentage of their incomes toward rental costs. This benefit is being cost shared with the provinces and territories, and while the exact details of the roll out will likely vary depending on those agreements, it is intended to provide 300,000 households with an average support of $2,500 per year by 2030.

Given current circumstances, we recommend complimenting existing initiatives with a new, emergency benefit that will help more low-income Canadians be able to afford their rent. By doing so, the federal government will be insuring that every Canadian can keep a roof over their head in hard times, as well as be able to afford food.

This investment would not only build on, as well as help support those who are not currently eligible for the CERB, but also set the stage for a longer-term transformation of our social safety net so more people in the long term will be able to pay rent AND put food on the table.

Full Tables

Based on what you’ve seen, heard, and read, how serious of a problem is hunger among Canadians today?
(by age, gender, and region)

What do you think is the biggest cost pressure that affects people’s ability to afford enough food?
(by age, gender, and region)

The analysis in this report is based on results of a survey conducted from March 29th-30th among a sample of 1654 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in Canada The survey was conducted using automated telephone interviews (Smart IVR). Respondents were interviewed on landlines and cellular phones.

The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.4% at the 95% confidence level. Margins of error are higher in each subsample.

Totals may not add up 100% due to rounding.

* 2019 HungerCount, pages 22-23. https://hungercount.foodbankscanada.ca/assets/docs/FoodBanks_HungerCount_EN_2019.pdf
† 2019 HungerCount, pg.35. . https://hungercount.foodbankscanada.ca/assets/docs/FoodBanks_HungerCount_EN_2019.pdf

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of food distributed by Canadian food banks is fresh (eg. milk, eggs, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, bread)