February 3, 2023

Rising Price of Food Threatens to Adversely Affect Poverty Rates in Canada: Government Memo

An internal government memo states that food inflation is rising so much, it threatens to reverse gains in the national rate of poverty.

The memo, called “School Food” from the Department of Social Development, said the average 11 percent increase in grocery food prices “could impact poverty rates in Canada” for years in the future.

According to the memo, the national poverty rate declined to as low as 6.4 percent in 2020, down from 10.3 percent in 2019, helped in part by the tax-free Canada Child Benefit and various pandemic relief programs that gave money to Canadians during COVID.

“The significant decrease in poverty between 2019 and 2020 can be mostly attributed to temporary Covid-19 emergency income supports,” it said.

The Sept. 27 memo, obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter, notes that “the rising cost of food will be reflected in Canada’s poverty rates.”

“As food prices increase, poverty thresholds are likely to follow,” it said.

Statistics Canada figures indicate that grocery prices were up 11 percent in December 2022 compared to the same time frame in 2021. In 2022 overall, grocery prices had increased 9.8 percent, the highest increase since 1981.

An average family of four can expect to spend more than $300 per week on food this year, according to Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Food prices in 2023 will be even higher than they were in 2022, increasing the food bill for the average family of four—a man and woman aged 31–50, a boy aged 14–18, and a girl aged 9–13—by $1065.60.

The memo indicates government officials are still working on a promised national school lunch program. It is having difficulties implementing the program due to challenges: “ensuring food is adequate and nutritious, exploring how to align programming to needs in a way to avoid stigma, culturally appropriate programming and accountability.”

The idea was first mentioned in a 2021 Minister Mandate letter that said the government would “develop a national school food policy and work toward a national school nutritious meal program.”

“There is an uneven patchwork of programming across the country reaching roughly one in five school age children, 21 percent,” said the memo. “The needs of many children are not adequately met.”

“School food programming with the exception of First Nations on reserve falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction,” said the memo. “However the Government of Canada has provided some funding to support school food initiatives.”

Blacklock’s Reporter notes that the New Democrat Party’s election platform, Ready for Better, campaigned in 2021 on the promise of a national school lunch program. No costs were estimated for the program that the NDP said would “[g]ive every child in Canada access to healthy food.”

Charlebois said food prices for most items are likely not going to decrease for the foreseeable future. For the last 12 months, the food inflation rate has exceeded general inflation.

“It’s really a concern,” Charlebois told The Epoch Times.

“There are two necessities of life: shelter and food. Those are the two things people need in order to survive, so obviously higher prices are a big concern,” said the professor.

“This is probably the most expensive groceries have ever been, but that’s the impact of inflation.”

Marnie Cathcart is a reporter based in Edmonton.

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