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A STEEP PRICE TO PAY

- Action Needed Now to Ensure People Have Adequate Incomes so They Can Afford Healthy Eating -

At a time of year when many families are gearing up for holiday feasts, some local low-income earners may find it far from festive.

Residents of Haliburton County, Northumberland County and the City of Kawartha Lakes who rely on social assistance or minimum-wage jobs often do not have enough money to afford healthy food once they pay for other necessities such as rent, utilities, heat and transportation. That conclusion comes out of the annual Nutritious Food Basket costing done in 2015 by the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit. A Nutritious Food Basket consists of 67 food items that are nutritious and commonly purchased by Ontarians, but does not include other essentials such as cleaning products, diapers, toilet paper and personal care items.

In 2015, the Health Unit found the cost of a Nutritious Food Basket for a local family of four (father, mother, teenaged boy and girl between four and eight years) to be $202.62 per week. This represents a $12.26 per week increase in the cost of healthy eating from 2014. In fact, 2015 saw the largest year-over-year increase in the price of healthy foods for a family of four since 2011.

“More than ever, there are people in our communities struggling to put healthy food on the table – a direct result of inadequate income,” says Elsie Azevedo Perry, a Registered Dietitian with the HKPR District Health Unit. “The financial picture for some low-income earners is gloomy enough, but only gets worse around the holidays with the extra pressure to buy gifts and other items.”

The situation for minimum-wage earners in particular is bleak, according to a recent report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The report, entitled A Higher Standard: The Case for Holding Low-Wage Employers in Ontario to a Higher Standard, notes that minimum-wage jobs in Ontario have increased by almost 400 per cent in the last 20 years. Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in Ontario are over 20 years of age, and most have unpredictable hours of work, the report finds. Even with full-time, year-round work, the report finds minimum wage earners in Ontario would still not earn enough to live above the poverty line.

People who rely on social assistance aren’t much better off, especially factoring in housing/rental costs that can eat up to half or more of their monthly incomes, Azevedo Perry notes. She cites the challenges facing a local mother who collects Ontario Works. After paying her rent, the mother has only $156 left each month to pay for other necessities. Because her family lives in a remote rural area, the mother has to pay close to $65 for a round-trip taxi ride to get groceries, leaving even less money for food and diapers for her children.

“Unfortunately, there are many other stories like this one that we come across all the time,” Azevedo Perry adds. “Better budgeting is not the answer either, especially when there is not enough money to begin with at the start of the month.”

To address the problem facing low-income earners, local residents and municipal leaders are being asked to support poverty-reduction strategies in their communities that address important issues such as safe and affordable housing, public transportation, and affordable and flexible child care. People can also support their community by asking for and buying local products, especially local food. At the provincial level, people are encouraged to speak to their MPPs to raise social assistance and the minimum wage rates to reflect the true cost of living. Employers who pay minimum wage should also be required to schedule more predictable work hours for staff and set a higher standard for paid leave, she adds.

To find out more about the Nutritious Food Basket costing and the challenges facing local residents, people can call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577, visit the Rethink Poverty website, or go online to Harvest Haliburton.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Elsie Azevedo Perry, Registered Dietitian, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100, or toll-free: 1-866-888-4577, ext. 1218.

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