Following months of preparation, food banks across Canada have produced their annual HungerCount report. Some in the media say it’s good news, that with the economy turning a corner we can finally see a decline in poverty. That’s quite a stretch, and fortunately most of the media reported it for what it was: another indication of the entrenchment of poverty in the Canadian context that refuses to go away regardless of the state of the economy.
The report concludes that food bank use has declined 7% in the last year. However, much of that is regionally slanted, with many food banks facing continual increases. Food bank use went up 25% in the past five years says the report, but in London, Ontario that number is just shy of 50%. While some food banks might have welcomed a slight decline, London’s numbers increased 3% over the same period.
Food banks have lived through three recessions since their presence on the Canadian scene, and following each recovery usage never returned to pre-recession levels. Their greatest challenge has been faced in the last few years. While some economists remind us that we are on the road to recovery, food banks numbers remain stubbornly high and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Increasingly, Canadians are asking why this is so. Why is it, for instance, that when corporations say that because of competition they are required to slash wages and spending, they are also achieving profits that are at an all-time high? When such companies say they can’t afford higher wages or the infrastructure costs to run more environmentally sustainable activities, how do they square that with their flushed coffers? Such success clearly makes it possible to pay workers better and remain in the black, so what’s holding them back from benefitting their community in such a fashion? These are fundamental common sense questions for which no one is getting an answer.
The HungerCount report provided one very troubling reality. Of the almost one million people who frequented food banks, 36% were children. Many continually claim that they sympathize with children in developing nations because the adults and leaders of those nations permit their youngest members to exist in such a state. They are correct when stating that leaving children in poverty is a systemic problem characterized by a lack of will. How do Canadians respond to a similar trend in their own country? Regardless of our ideologies or preferences, none of us desires a future of poverty for our children. Why then do we permit a situation where kids remain hungry?
Yes, there are numerous solutions being bandied about to provide programs and incentives for low-income families, but wouldn’t it make more sense to take on that one great task that might have the greatest effect: protect and enhance the middle class? A number of well-intentioned initiatives designed to lift children out of hunger and poverty could never measure up to this one great endeavour poised before the Canadian people, their businesses, and their governments.
It has been said that poverty, once experienced, becomes a prison, a trap from which one can’t escape. But surely that can’t be so because at one point in our journey as humans we were virtually all impoverished. Over centuries, we developed mechanisms – legal, economic, ethical, and social – that began the great process of freeing the human race from oppressive poverty. The largest part of that adventure remains unfinished. Poverty, regardless of its oppressive circumstances, is mostly a state of mind that refuses to create the conditions necessary for the economic liberation of the greatest number of citizens or simply mindlessly acquiesces to the status quo. We can’t keep blaming the politicians alone, regardless of what we are enduring at present. A country’s dreams are established in its people, not just its leaders, and the fact that we continue to accept poverty in such high numbers is merely a sign that we have instead fallen into a dreamless sleep.