Board of health calls on province to increase social assistance to match rising cost of food

SUDBURY—The Sudbury and District Health Unit (SDHU) board of health is calling on the province of Ontario to increase social assistance rates immediately to reflect the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket and local housing costs. This message was part of a motion passed by the board at a recent meeting.

“The motion basically called for several things, increase the social assistance rates immediately being one,” said Bridget King of the SDHU. “That the province ensure continued consistent local surveillance and monitoring of food costing by public health units through the nutritious food basket, and that Statists Canada incorporate the household food security survey model as a core module of the Canadian community health survey.”

Access to safe, nutritious, affordable and culturally appropriate food is critical for food security and individual and community health. Food costing measured annually by Ontario boards of health using the nutritious food basket (NFB) survey tool is instrumental in understanding and acting on local food issues.  Nationally, Canada measures household food security through the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS).

The SDHU undertook its annual 2017 Nutritious Food Basket scenarios, and in the report it demonstrates that Ontario social assistance rates are inadequate. The percentage of income from Ontario Works required for housing was 43 percent and 34 percent for food. That leaves 23 percent over for other basic needs.

“In the 2017 Nutritious Food Basket report for the SDHU, we provided seven scenarios, four from households with children and three for single person households,” said Ms. King. “To show how much of a need there is, in one of the scenarios, for a household with children and a family with a median Ontario Income of $17,896, and rent $1,111 it leaves a total of only 11 percent in total for a month to purchase healthy food.”

The board of health motion on the Nutritious Food Basket 2017 reads:  “Whereas the Sudbury and District Board of Health has monitored the cost of healthy eating on an annual basis in accordance with the Nutritious food Basket Protocol and the Population Health Assessment and Surveillance Protocol as per the Ontario Public Health Standards 2008: and whereas the draft standards for Public Health Programs and Services 2017, do not include the Nutritious Food Basket Protocol which is a concern because food costing data gathered by public health units each year is important for policy and program development; and Whereas the Canadian Community Health Survey’s Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) is a measure of food security but is not always a mandatory core module; and whereas regular and consistent monitoring of household food insecurity is essential for evidence-informed policy decision making; Therefore be it resolved that the Sudbury and District Board of Health request that social assistance rates be increased immediately to reflect the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket and local housing costs; and that the Sudbury and District Board of Health advocate to the province to ensure continued consistent local surveillance and monitoring of food costing by public health units through the continuation of a Nutritious Food Basket Protocol and Guidance document; and that the Sudbury and District Board of Health advocate to Statistics Canada for the HFSSM to become a core module for the Canadian Community Health Survey and Further that the Sudbury and District Board of Health share this motion and supporting materials with community agencies, boards, municipalities, elected representatives and others as appropriate throughout the SDHU catchment area.”