We are very pleased to post the final meeting report from the recent community-government consultation on proposed increases to social assistance food rates. It was a terrific discussion. Here is the link to the report: FULL-Food-Rates-Consultation
We published an overview of the meeting as a news release here.
And to read Dr. Colleen Walton’s written submission to the consultation on behalf of the PEI Food Security Network, you can read it in the report appendix or below:
Prince Edward Island Food Security Network
Food Rate Increases for Social Assistance Clients
Department of Community Services and Seniors
May 15, 2014
On behalf of the PEI Food Security Network I am honoured to bring forth our response to the Department of Community Services and Seniors’ “consultation on increases in Social Assistance Food Rates in PEI”. The Food Security Network is comprised of more than 150 organizations and individuals; all of whom have a common vision to alleviate food insecurity in PEI. Specifically our vision is that all Island households have sufficient social and economic resources to ensure year-round access to adequate quantities of nutritious food through socially acceptable, dignified means.
One important action toward this ideal is to increase social assistance food allowances. We applaud the Department of Community Services and Seniors for consulting with our group and many others as they prepare their plan for these increases. We are encouraged that the Minister and department have accepted the long overdue challenge to address inadequate food allowances for individuals and families who receive social assistance.
The strategy of indexing these increases with the increases in the consumer price index of food in PEI is important and good news. We were also encouraged that the increases proposed in the five year plan would be front loaded to achieve equity among the social assistance sub-groups in the first two years. Although unspecified for this first two years, we believe a minimum target for equity among the sub-groups must be at least the current maximum of 65% of the cost a nutritious basket of foods.
We oppose the 5 year target of 70% of the cost of a nutritious food basket. The only acceptable target for food assistance allowances is 100% of the cost of a nutritious basket of food. This target needs to be achieved in the shortest possible timeframe. To target less than 100%, is to propose a plan that consciously leaves children and adults in food insecurity and thereby limits their educational and economic productivity due to poor nutrition and health.
The fact that cost of the nutritious food basket has not been recently examined across PEI and that we are relying on Regional average food costs unfortunately limits our knowledge of whether even 100% is sufficient for all social assistance households. For people with limited money and transportation, and those in the rural areas, it is more difficult to access the large stores where foods tend to be less expensive. Anecdotal evidence suggests that nutritious foods such as milk, fruit, vegetables and meat are more expensive in rural areas. The lack of PEI-based food costing may also put Islanders with health conditions that require special diets (eg. Celiac disease, diabetes) at a greater disadvantage. Without PEI data, the cost of these special diet foods may be even higher in rural areas rendering the any proposed increases in the food allowance ineffective at reducing food insecurity and promoting good health. For these reasons we encourage the department to reinstate nutritious food basket costing on a regular basis. With current and complete local data, the food allowances can accurately be assessed against the costs to clearly identify their sufficiency.
Food is a modestly elastic expenditure. In households with insufficient money the portion of the household budget allotted to food is often reduced to adequately cover the in-flexible costs of other critical living expenses such as rent, heat, electricity. With less money for food, people purchase foods that are cheap and filling. These foods typically provide excess energy, fat, salt and sugar but do not contribute important vitamins and minerals, such as those found in vegetables, fruit, meat and milk, and which are necessary for good health. In order that the food allowance is able to have the intended effect of reducing food insecurity, it is imperative that all SA allowances be increased annually and indexed to the CPI.
Food insecurity has been described as a “wicked problem”. Such social problems are difficult to solve and there are many differing views on approaches to mitigate their negative outcomes. What is clear is that an intelligent, empathetic and interdisciplinary approach is necessary. Changing social assistance allowances is only one piece of the solution to alleviate food insecurity. Addressing food insecurity among the working poor in PEI is particularly pressing.
The Food Security Network therefore proposes that the Department of Community Services and Seniors be leaders in establishing a working committee across multiple provincial government departments, including Health, Education, Innovation among others; municipal and community leaders, who often have a role in affordable housing and local interventions; and advocacy groups. The mandate of the committee would be to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of food insecurity in PEI. This multi-organizational multi-disciplinary working group would elevate PEI to the status of a leader in addressing household food insecurity in Canada and in designing a model aimed at achieving a sustainable, healthy and productive population. PEI would become a model for other provinces to follow in addressing Food Insecurity.