Health unit urges citizens to press their MP, MPP to support basic income

By Roderick Benns

Money talks when it comes to food security.

In the fight against food insecurity the local health unit says boosting income is the only real solution to helping people gain access to healthy food.

To raise awareness of food insecurity, the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit is launching a new campaign called Rethink Poverty: Change Minds, Change Lives – and they’re urging citizens to press their MP and MPP for a basic income policy.

Health unit urges citizens to press their MP, MPP to support basic income
Aisha Malik, Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.

The Progressive Conservative MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, Laurie Scott, previously told The Lindsay Advocate she is “glad Lindsay was chosen” and that she welcomes the basic income pilot.

MP Jamie Schmale told The Advocate that he is on board with the policy idea, provided Ontario Works is eliminated, as well as so-called boutique tax credits.

This campaign launch by the health unit comes on the eve of the Ontario Basic Income Network holding a public event about basic income in Lindsay, including a panel discussion.

More than one in 10 local households are in a situation where people are not getting enough food, or there is anxiety there will not be enough to eat because of lack of income.

The Rethink Poverty site includes resources and videos about food insecurity, and most importantly a template letter that residents are encouraged to email to their MPPs and MPs. The letter asks area politicians to continue supporting and pushing for income-based solutions like a higher minimum wage, better employment standards and a Basic Income Guarantee.

A higher minimum wage has already been announced by the Province, rising to $15 an hour in just over a year, and the Province did also tighten up some employment standards in favour of employees.

As for a basic income, Ontario is embarking on a three-year pilot in Lindsay, Thunder Bay, and Hamilton area. Many advocates say everyone should have access to a basic income, though, without needing further evidence from a pilot study.

“The basic income guarantee is timely and worth supporting,” says Aisha Malik, a registered dietitian with the local health unit, “as it would ensure everyone — regardless of work status — is guaranteed a minimum level of basic income, greatly helping to address food insecurity here and across Ontario.”

Malik says the health unit is aware that many low-income earners in the City of Kawartha Lakes are food insecure, especially those working in low-paying, unstable jobs.

“Working full-time hours at minimum wage no longer guarantees someone can afford basic needs, including food and rent,” she says.

While ‘food charity’ (such as food bank use) may address food insecurity in the short-term, it is not a long-term solution. Poverty is the root cause, and the only way to fix the problem is to provide people with more income, Malik adds.

The health unit’s message for people to ‘rethink poverty’ is bolstered by findings from its annual Nutritious Food Basket survey for 2017. The basket tracks the affordability of healthy foods for individuals and families in the area.

According to the Health Unit’s calculations, on average it costs approximately $882 per month for a family of four (two adults, one teenager and one child) to eat healthy in the City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton County and Northumberland County in 2017.

Health unit urges citizens to press their MP, MPP to support basic incomeWhile the Health Unit’s costing for 2017 is very similar to the 2016 finding, increases in other monthly expenses mean people’s incomes are not keeping pace.

“We continue to see situations where rising costs for rent, utilities, hydro, clothing and some food make it difficult for people who rely on social assistance, disability benefits and minimum-wage jobs to pay all their bills,” Malik says.

“This is leading some low-income earners in our community to put off buying healthy food so they can pay for other basic needs of life.”

She says lack of healthy food leads to poorer health and higher medical costs, which makes a stronger argument in favour of income-based solutions like a higher minimum wage, better employment standards and a basic income.

“Food insecurity affects all of us, and income-based solutions are an investment that pays off in improved well-being for residents and lower health care costs,” Malik says.

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