Monday, December 20, 2010

Hunger at Crisis Point in Ontario... and elsewhere!

By Isabel Teotonio, Toronto Star, December 20, 2010
The only way to stop the growing rate of hunger is by increasing wages, investing in income security programs, providing affordable housing and improving access to community food programs, according to a list of recommendations to be released on Monday.

The Recession Relief Coalition is releasing 10 top recommendations that are key to combatting the troubling rise of hunger in the province. They are geared toward policy-makers at all levels of government.
“Hunger and poverty are at a crisis point,” said Dr. Gary Bloch, a family physician with St. Michael’s Hospital and assistant professor with the University of Toronto, who helped draft the recommendations.
“We are facing the highest levels of food bank use and some of the highest rates of social assistance use ever,” said Bloch, noting his practice is largely comprised of people living below the poverty line and struggling for basic survival.
The recommendations were put together by a six-member panel after a full day of evidence at a hunger inquiry in late November. The panel — which also included a retired minister, celebrity chef and a housing advocate — heard from more than 30 front-line workers, social service agency staff, academics community leaders and people directly affected by hunger. The coalition’s full report is expected in January.
After decades of cutbacks to government revenues, through individual and corporate tax cuts, “a small reversal of these cuts” would provide funds for some basic social insurance programs to fight hunger and poverty, Bloch said.
“We are willing to pump ever-increasing dollars into health care, much of it to treat the health problems caused by high levels of poverty, but we seem unwilling to address the root causes of these problems,” he told the Star.
His comments were echoed by Jim Stanford, an economist with the Canadian Auto Workers, who was also a panelist.
Taxes in Canada have declined by five percentage points of GDP since 2000, representing $75 billion per year of foregone government revenue, said Stanford. If a small fraction of that was devoted to the sorts of measures proposed, hunger would be eliminated, he says.
“We are cutting off our fiscal nose to spite our face, when we short-sightedly fail to provide necessary income supports to the poor and hungry,” he said. “I would rather pay up front, in a concerted and integrated effort to prevent hunger, rather than after the fact, to try and fix the health and other problems caused by hunger.”
We at the are struck every Friday noon drivin past Kinston City Hall, to see about a dozen men and women standing silently along  the front of city hall, wearing placards shouting in large letters, messages like, "Make Poverty History" and they have been there for months.
And no one listens, and no one really cares and, it seems, few, if any, do anything about the issue.
Even this report, another in a long line of reports, will likely fall on deaf ears in the provincial and federal governments, as the "shiny" story of the country's near escape from the ravages of the recession and our rise from the ashes into a more resilient economy march across the front pages of the nation's newspapers.
And at the same time, more and more events, proudly announcing "free admission" are now requesting "a piece of non-perishable food for the food bank" as the admission to the event.
At least that is a beginning to raising the consciousness of the public to what is really becoming a national crisis.
This story, from the Toronto Star, focuses on the province of Ontario, but the story is affecting thousands across the country, and in many other countries, not to mention the obvious countries like Haiti, or Somalia, or the Ivory Coast, or......
I really like Jim Sanford's comment:
“We are cutting off our fiscal nose to spite our face, when we short-sightedly fail to provide necessary income supports to the poor and hungry,” he said. “I would rather pay up front, in a concerted and integrated effort to prevent hunger, rather than after the fact, to try and fix the health and other problems caused by hunger.”
And we also continue to accord the accountants, and the Auditor General and the immediate numbers that the government releases as much more important.
What would happen in this country if, instead of announcing the figures for unemployment, and for the GDP, and for the Consumer Price Index, all figures that favour the interests of the wealthy and the investors, we daily announced the number of people who cost the health care system X dollars, because they did not have enough food or appropriate shelter, or adequate education....and we faced those figures weekly, or monthly, and the media began paying attention to the weakest and the most vulnerable, not only at the time of the Christmas Season, but all through the year?

Top 10 recommendations of the Recession Relief Coalition Hunger Inquiry
1.Employers pay a living wage so people working full-time can afford nutritious food, access to adequate housing and other life essentials.
2.The Ontario government immediately implement a substantial increase to social assistance rates.
3.The Federal government provide additional access to Employment Insurance beyond the normal 50-week maximum until the recession ends and unemployment rates decline and lower the threshold of eligibility to 360 hours down from the current minimum of 420 hours.
4. The Ontario government maintain the Special Diet Allowance at current funding levels to support prevention and treatment of disease and recipients not be required to reveal medical information to non-medical professionals.
5.Members of Parliament vote for Bill C-304, a bill for a National Housing Strategy, to enact a plan to increase safe, affordable housing.
6.Food banks remove restrictions to access based on postal code, number of previous visits and identification.
7.All levels of government include health outcomes as a measurement of the impact of social policy decisions.
8.All levels of government consider the long-term cost to the health system of not addressing poverty and hunger now.
9.All levels of government and funders invest in community-based organizations to create food hubs that provide nutritious food and cooking opportunities.
10.Governments and community-based organizations reject charity as a means of fighting hunger and consider access to food a basic human right.


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